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Subduction zone with inset showing structure of accretionary prism

An accretionary wedge or accretionary prism is formed from sediments that are accreted onto the non-subducting tectonic plate at a convergent plate boundary. Most of the material in the accretionary wedge consists of marine sediments scraped off from the downgoing slab of oceanic crust but in some cases includes the erosional products of volcanic island arcs formed on the overriding plate.


The internal structure of an accretionary wedge is similar to that found in a thin-skinned foreland thrust belt. A series of thrusts verging towards the trench are formed with the youngest most outboard structures progressively uplifting the older more inboard thrusts.

The shape of the wedge is determined by how readily the wedge will fail along its basal decollement and in its interior; this is highly sensitive to pore fluid pressure. This failure will result in a mature wedge that has an equilibrium triangular cross-sectional shape of a critical taper. Once the wedge reaches a critical taper, it will maintain that geometry and grow only into a larger similar triangle.

Accretionary wedge
(USGS Visual Glossary)



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