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Keywords:

  • HFSE;
  • Central America;
  • Nb;
  • Zr;
  • subduction

The Central American volcanic front consists of several distinct volcanic lineaments or segments, separated by right steps and/or changes in strike. Each volcanic line is rotated slightly counterclockwise from the strike of the inclined seismic zone. Right stepping volcanic lines, oblique to the strike of the slab, create a sawtooth pattern in the depth to the slab. Zr/Nb is the first geochemical signature with consistent large offsets at the right steps in the volcanic front. Moreover, Zr/Nb mirrors the sawtooth variation in depth to the slab; within a segment it increases from SE to NW, and at the right steps, separating segments, it abruptly decreases. Unfortunately, there is no simple negative correlation between Zr/Nb and depth to the slab because Zr/Nb also has a regional variation, similar to previously documented regional variations in slab tracers in Central America (e.g., Ba/La, U/Th, and 87Sr/86Sr). Within a segment, Zr/Nb decreases with increasing depth to slab. This can be explained in two ways: a Nb retaining mineral, e.g., amphibole, in the subducting slab is breaking down gradually with increasing depth causing more Nb to be released and consequently a smaller Nb depletion in deeper melts; alternatively, all melts have the same initial Nb depletion which is then diluted by acquiring Nb from the surrounding mantle wedge as melts rise and react. Deeper melts have longer paths and therefore more reaction with the mantle wedge diluting the initial Nb depletion. Within each volcanic segment there is variation in eruptive volume. The largest volcanoes generally occur in the middle of the segments, and the smaller volcanoes tend to be located at the ends. Connecting the largest volcanoes in each segment suggests an axis of maximum productivity. This is likely the surface projection of the center of the melt aggregation zone. The largest volcanoes tap the entire melt zone. Those with shallow depths to the slab tap just the front part of the melt zone and have very large Nb depletions. Those at greater depths tap the back part of the melt zone and have much smaller Nb depletions.