The Cenozoic history of the retreating Hellenic subduction system in the eastern Mediterranean involves subduction, accretion, arc magmatism, exhumation, normal faulting, and large-scale continental extension from ∼60 Mya until the Recent. Ages for high-pressure metamorphism in the central Aegean Sea region range from ∼53 Ma in the north (the Cyclades islands) to ∼25−20 Ma in the south (Crete). Younging of high-pressure metamorphism reflects the southward retreat of the Hellenic subduction zone. The shape of pressure-temperature-time paths of high-pressure rocks is remarkably similar across all tectonic units, suggesting a steady-state thermal profile of the subduction system and persistence of deformation and exhumation styles. The high-pressure metamorphic events were caused by the underthrusting of fragments of continental crust that were superimposed on slab retreat. Most of the exhumation of high-pressure units occurred in extrusion wedges during ongoing lithospheric convergence. At 23–19 Mya large-scale lithospheric extension commenced, causing metamorphic core complexes and the opening of the Aegean Sea basin. This extensional stage caused limited exhumation at the margins of the Aegean Sea but accomplished the major part of the exhumation of high-grade rocks that formed between 21 and 16 Mya in the central Aegean. The age pattern of extensional faults and contoured maps of fission-track cooling ages do not show a simple southward progression. Our review of lithologic, structural, metamorphic, and geochronologic data is consistent with a temporal link between the draping of the subducted slab over the 660-km discontinuity and the large-scale extension causing the opening of the Aegean Sea basin.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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