Nature of orogenesis and volcanism in the Caucasus region based on results of regional tomography
In the paper, we discuss the problem of continental collision and related volcanism in the Caucasus and surrounding areas based on the analysis of the upper mantle seismic structure in a recently derived model by Koulakov (2011). This model, which includes P and S-velocity anomalies down to 1000 km depth, was obtained from tomographic inversion of worldwide travel time data from the catalogue of the International Seismological Center. It can be seen that the Caucasus region is squeezed between two continental plates, Arabian to the south and European to the north, which are displayed in the tomographic model as high-velocity bodies down to about 200–250 km depth. On the contrary, a very bright low-velocity anomaly beneath the collision area implies that the lithosphere in this zone is very thin, which is also supported by strong horizontal deformations and crustal thickening indicating weak properties of the lithosphere. In the contact between stable continental and collision zones, we observe a rather complex alternation of seismic anomalies having the shapes of sinking drops. We propose that the convergence process causes crustal thickening and transformation of the lower crust material into the dense eclogite. When achieving a critical mass, the dense eclogitic drops trigger detachment of the mantle lithosphere and its delamination. The observed high-velocity bodies in the upper mantle may indicate the parts of the descending mantle lithosphere which were detached from the edges of the continental lithosphere plates. Very thin, or even absent, mantle parts of the lithosphere leads to the presence of hot asthenosphere just below the crust. The crustal shortening and eclogitisation of the lower crustal layer leads to the dominantly felsic composition of the crust which is favourable for the upward heat transport from the mantle. This, and also the factors of frictional heating and the radioactivity of felsic rocks, may be the origin of volcanic centres in the Caucasus and surrounding collisional areas.