The origin and geochemical evolution of the Woodlark Rift of Papua New Guinea

N. A. Zirakparvar, S. L. Baldwin, J. D. Vervoort

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35 Scopus citations


Geochemical, isotopic, and geochronologic data for exhumed rocks in the Woodlark Rift of Papua New Guinea (PNG) allow a tectonic link to be established with the Late Cretaceous Whitsunday Volcanic Province (WVP) of northeastern Australia. Most of the metamorphic rocks in the Woodlark Rift have Nd isotopic compositions (εNd=+1.7 to +6.2) similar to the Nd isotopic compositions of rocks in the WVP (εNd=+1.3 to +6.6; Ewart et al., 1992), and contain inherited zircons with 90 to 100Ma U-Pb ages that overlap the timing of magmatism in the WVP. None of the metamorphic rocks in the Woodlark Rift have the highly evolved Hf and Nd isotopic compositions expected of ancient continental crust. Magmas were erupted in the WVP during the middle Cretaceous as eastern Gondwana was rifted apart. The protoliths of felsic and intermediate metamorphic rocks in the Woodlark Rift are interpreted to be related to the magmatic products produced during this Cretaceous rifting event. Some mafic metamorphic rocks exposed in the western Woodlark Rift (eclogites and amphibolites) are not related to the WVP and instead could have originated as basaltic lavas crystallized from mantle melts at (U)HP depths in the Late Cenozoic, or as fragments of Mesozoic aged oceanic lithosphere.Isotopic and elemental comparisons between basement gneisses and Quaternary felsic volcanic rocks demonstrate that felsic lavas in the D'Entrecasteaux Islands did not form solely from partial melting of metamorphic rocks during exhumation. Instead, the isotopic compositions and geochemistry of Quaternary felsic volcanic rocks indicate a significant contribution from the partial melting of the mantle in this region. When combined with geophysical data for the western Woodlark Rift, this suggests that future seafloor spreading will commence south of Fergusson Island, and west of the present-day active seafloor spreading rift tip.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)931-943
Number of pages13
JournalGondwana Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • (U)HP metamorphism
  • AUS-PAC plate boundary zone
  • Breakup of Gondwana
  • Initiation of rifting in an accretionary margin
  • Tectonics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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