East Asian lithospheric evolution dictated by multistage Mesozoic flat-slab subduction

Lijun Liu, Diandian Peng, Liang Liu, Ling Chen, Sanzhong Li, Yaoyi Wang, Zebin Cao, Mingye Feng

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


East Asia is characterized by an east-west topographic dichotomy on the two sides of the North-South Gravity Lineament (NSGL), a feature not associated with major basement boundaries. The NSGL also marks an abrupt change in the thickness of the continental crust and the lithospheric mantle, as well as that in the associated residual topography. Both the mechanism and timing for the formation of this unique East Asian lithospheric property remain unclear. We reviewed the key tectonic records of East Asia since the early Mesozoic, with a particular focus on the plausible underlying mantle dynamics. The observation that widespread Jurassic-Early Cretaceous crustal extension occurred on both sides of the NSGL and that Cenozoic rift basins were predominantly to the east of the NSGL suggests that the seismically observed East Asian lithospheric structure came into being no earlier than the Cretaceous. Several flat-slab models have been proposed. We suggest that a combination of these models could explain the unique East Asian lithospheric evolution since the Middle Mesozoic. Further ground truth using quantitative geodynamic models with data assimilation demonstrates that a flat slab could significantly reduce the thickness of the overriding plate by dislocating and entraining the lower mantle lithosphere. Meanwhile, an advancing flat slab causes widespread upper-lithosphere compression and disappearance of the mantle wedge, implying regional-scale surface uplift (or reduced subsidence) and magmatic quiescence, respectively. We identify two episodes of Mesozoic flat slabs below East Asia, one during the Jurassic-Early Cretaceous and the other during the Late Cretaceous. The former affected the eastern half of North China and Northeast China, and the latter affected the entire region east of the NSGL from Northeast China to South China. These two flat-slab cycles largely determined the evolution of the lithosphere and topography within East Asia since the Mesozoic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103621
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Basin inversion
  • Flat slab subduction
  • Lithosphere thinning
  • North-South Gravity Lineament

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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