Arc-continent collisions occur commonly in the plate-tectonic cycle and result in rapidly formed and rapidly collapsing orogens, often spanning just 5-15 My. Growth of continental masses through arc-continent collision is widely thought to be a major process governing the structural and geochemical evolution of the continental crust over geologic time. Collisions of intra-oceanic arcs with passive continental margins (a situation in which the arc, on the upper plate, faces the continent) involve a substantially different geometry than collisions of intra-oceanic arcs with active continental margins (a situation requiring more than one convergence zone and in which the arc, on the lower plate, backs into the continent), with variable preservation potential for basins in each case. Substantial differences also occur between trench and forearc evolution in tectonically erosive versus tectonically accreting margins, both before and after collision.
We examine the evolution of trenches, trench-slope basins, forearc basins, intra-arc basins, and backarc basins during arc-continent collision. The preservation potential of trench-slope basins is low; in collision they are rapidly uplifted and eroded, and at erosive margins they are progressively destroyed by subduction erosion. Post-collisional preservation of trench sediment and trench-slope basins is biased toward margins that were tectonically accreting for a substantial length of time before collision. Forearc basins in erosive margins are usually floored by strong lithosphere and may survive collision with a passive margin, sometimes continuing sedimentation throughout collision and orogeny. The low flexural rigidity of intra-arc basins makes them deep and, if preserved, potentially long records of arc and collisional tectonism. Backarc basins, in contrast, are typically subducted and their sediment either lost or preserved only as fragments in melange sequences. A substantial proportion of the sediment derived from collisional orogenesis ends up in the foreland basin that forms as a result of collision, and may be preserved largely undeformed. Compared to continent-continent collisional foreland basins, arc-continent collisional foreland basins are short-lived and may undergo partial inversion after collision as a new, active continental margin forms outboard of the collision zone and the orogen whose load forms the basin collapses in extension.