Lithosphere tearing along STEP faults and synkinematic formation of lherzolite and wehrlite in the shallow subcontinental mantle
Subduction-transform edge propagator (STEP) faults are the locus of continual lithospheric tearing at slab edges, resulting in sharp changes in the lithospheric and crustal thickness and triggering lateral and/or near-vertical mantle flow. However, the mechanisms at the lithospheric mantle scale are still poorly understood. Here, we present the microstructural study of olivine-rich lherzolite, harzburgite and wehrlite mantle xenoliths from the Oran volcanic field (Tell Atlas, northwest Algeria). This alkali volcanic field occurs along a major STEP fault responsible for the Miocene westward slab retreat in the westernmost Mediterranean. Mantle xenoliths provide a unique opportunity to investigate the microstructures in the mantle section of a STEP fault system. The microstructures of mantle xenoliths show a variable grain size ranging from coarse granular to fine-grained equigranular textures uncorrelated with lithology. The major element composition of the mantle peridotites provides temperature estimates in a wide range (790–1165 ∘C) but in general, the coarse-grained and fine-grained peridotites suggest deeper and shallower provenance depth, respectively. Olivine grain size in the fine-grained peridotites depends on the size and volume fraction of the pyroxene grains, which is consistent with pinning of olivine grain growth by pyroxenes as second-phase particles. In the coarse-grained peridotites, well-developed olivine crystal-preferred orientation (CPO) is characterized by orthorhombic and -fiber symmetries, and orthopyroxene has a coherent CPO with that of olivine, suggesting their coeval deformation by dislocation creep at high temperature. In the fine-grained microstructures, along with the weakening of the fabric strength, olivine CPO symmetry exhibits a shift towards  fiber and the  and  axes of orthopyroxene are generally distributed subparallel to those of olivine. These data are consistent with deformation of olivine in the presence of low amounts of melts and the precipitation of orthopyroxenes from a melt phase. The bulk CPO of clinopyroxene mimics that of orthopyroxene via a topotaxial relationship of the two pyroxenes. This observation points to a melt-related origin of most clinopyroxenes in the Oran mantle xenoliths. The textural and geochemical record of the peridotites are consistent with interaction of a refractory harzburgite protolith with a high-Mg no. melt at depth (resulting in the formation of coarse-grained clinopyroxene-rich lherzolite and wehrlite) and with a low-Mg no. evolved melt in the shallow subcontinental lithospheric mantle (forming fine-grained harzburgite). We propose that pervasive melt–peridotite reaction – promoted by lateral and/or near-vertical mantle flow associated with lithospheric tearing – resulted in the synkinematic crystallization of secondary lherzolite and wehrlite and had a key effect on grain size reduction during the operation of the Tell–Rif STEP fault. Melt–rock reaction and secondary formation of lherzolite and wehrlite may be widespread in other STEP fault systems worldwide.