Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Earth Sciences


Suzanne Baldwin


Geochemistry, Papua New Guinea, Volcanism

Subject Categories

Earth Sciences | Geology


The tectonic mechanisms producing Pliocene to active volcanism in eastern Papua New Guinea (PNG) have been debated for decades . In order to assess mechanisms that produce volcanism in the Woodlark Rift, we evaluate the evolution of volcanism in eastern PNG using 40Ar/39Ar thermochronology and whole rock geochemistry.

Active volcanism in southeastern Papua New Guinea occurs on the Papuan Peninsula (Mt. Lamington, Mt. Victory and Waiwa), in the Woodlark Rift (Dobu Island, SE Goodenough Island, and Western Fergusson Island), and in the Woodlark Basin . In the Woodlark Basin, seafloor spreading is active and decompression melting of the upper mantle is producing basaltic magmatism. However, the cause of Pliocene and younger volcanism in the Woodlark Rift is controversial. Two hypotheses for the tectonic setting have been proposed to explain Pliocene and younger volcanism in the Woodlark Rift: 1) southward subduction of Solomon Sea lithosphere beneath eastern PNG at the Trobriand Tough and 2) decompression melting of mantle, previously modified by subduction , as the lithosphere undergoes extension associated with the opening of the Woodlark Basin.

A comparison of 40Ar/39Ar ages with high field strength element (HFSE) concentrations in primary magmas indicates that HFSE concentrations correlate with age in the Woodlark rift. These data support the hypothesis that Pliocene to active volcanism in the Woodlark Rise and D'Entrecasteaux Islands results from decompression melting of a relict mantle wedge. The subduction zone geochemical signatures (negative HFSE anomalies) in Woodlark Rift lavas younger than 4 m.y. are a relict from older subduction beneath eastern Papua, likely in the middle Miocene . As the lithosphere is extended ahead of the tip of the westward propagating seafloor spreading center in the Woodlark Basin, the composition of volcanism is inherited from prior arc magmatism (via flux melting) and through time evolves toward magmatism associated with a rifting (via decompression melting).


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