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A working hypothesis for the recent evolution of the southern Volcano Arc, Japan, is presented which calls upon a northward-progressing sundering of the arc in response to a northward-propagating back-arc basin extensional regime. This model appears to explain several localized and recent changes in the tectonic and magrnatic evolution of the Volcano Arc. Most important among these changes is the unusual composition of Iwo Jima volcanic rocks. This contrasts with normal arc tholeiites typical of the rest of the Izu-Volcano-Mariana and other primitive arcs in having alkaline tendencies, high concentrations of light REE and other incompatible elements, and relatively high silica contents. In spite of such fractionated characteristics, these lavas appear to be very early manifestations of a new volcanic and tectonic cycle in the southern Volcano Arc. These alkaline characteristics and indications of strong regional uplift are consistent with the recent development of an early stage of inter-arc basin rifting in the southern Volcano Arc. New bathymetric data are presented in support of this model which indicate: 1. (1) structural elements of the Mariana Trough extend north to the southern Volcano Arc. 2. (2) both the Mariana Trough and frontal arc shoal rapidly northwards as the Volcano Arc is approached. 3. (3) rugged bathymetry associated with the rifted Mariana Trough is replaced just south of Iwo Jima by the development of a huge dome (50-75 km diameter) centered around Iwo Jima. Such uplifted domes are the immediate precursors of rifts in other environments, and it appears that a similar situation may now exist in the southern Volcano Arc. The present distribution of unrifted Volcano Arc to the north and rifted Mariana Arc to the south is interpreted not as a stable tectonic configuration but as representing a tectonic "snapshot" of an arc in the process of being rifted to form a back-arc basin. ?? 1984.