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ABSTRACT

The Late Tertiary history of the Mediterranean region exemplifies processes of ocean basin closure and continental collision, as determined from integrated land and marine evidence. During the Mesozoic–Early Tertiary, tectonic settings were dominated by evolution of Neotethys. This ocean generally widened eastwards, with a number of oceanic strands in the Eastern Mediterranean area. Great diversity of tectonic settings and palaeo-environments developed during the Tertiary closure history of these oceanic basins.

In the Eastern Mediterranean region, more northerly Neotethyan strands were closed by the Mid Tertiary, while oceanic crust remained in the south in the present Eastern Mediterranean Sea area.

Northwards subduction of the remaining southerly Neotethyan strand was probably active by the Early Miocene. Different areas exhibit different stages of convergence and ocean basin closure. In the east, the amalgamated Eurasian plate had collided with the Arabian margin (Africa) by the Late Miocene, while oceanic crust still persisted further west. Steady-state subduction during the Late Tertiary gave rise to the Mediterranean ridge, as a substantial mud-dominated accretionary wedge. In the Aegean area, sufficient northward subduction took place to activate arc volcanism and pervasive back arc extension, short of marginal basin opening. In the easternmost Mediterranean, only limited subduction took place, associated with supra-subduction zone extension (e.g. in Cyprus). Today, steady state-subduction continues only locally, where vestiges of Neotethys remain (e.g. Herodotus abyssal plain).

In the Western Mediterranean area, suturing of the African and Eurasian plates initially took place in the Betic region (Early–Mid Tertiary), where the Neotethys had existed only as a narrow connection with the Central North Atlantic. In the Central Mediterranean region, where the Western Neotethys was wider, northward subduction was active, apparently as early as the Late Cretaceous. In a widely accepted interpretation, an Andean-type magmatic arc developed along the southern margin of Europe and was then rifted off in the Late Oligocene-Early Miocene, to form the Corsica-Sardinia Block, opening the North Balearic marginal basin in its wake. The migrating subduction zone and microcontinent then collided diachronously with North Africa-related continental units (North Africa and Apulia) from Late Oligocene-Early Miocene, giving rise to collisional thrust belts in the Northern and Southern Apennines and along the North African continental margin (i.e. the Maghrebian chain) to the Betic-Rif area. From the Early Miocene onwards, a separate subduction system became active, related to removal of Neotethyan oceanic crust to the southeast (Ionian Sea), fueling suprasubduction zone extension and opening of the Tyrrhenian Sea. ‘Orogenic collapse’ is an alternative mechanism of such extension, and is widely believed to have caused divergent thrusting in the Betic and Rif regions of the westernmost Mediterranean, at the same time as crustal extension and subsidence of the Alboran Sea.