A window for plate tectonics in terrestrial planet evolution?

Craig O'Neill, Adrian Lenardic, Matthew Weller, Louis Moresi, Steve Quenette, Siqi Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The tectonic regime of a planet depends critically on the contributions of basal and internal heating to the planetary mantle, and how these evolve through time. We use viscoplastic mantle convection simulations, with evolving core-mantle boundary temperatures, and radiogenic heat decay, to explore how these factors affect tectonic regime over the lifetime of a planet. The simulations demonstrate (i) hot, mantle conditions, coming out of a magma ocean phase of evolution, can produce a "hot" stagnant-lid regime, whilst a cooler post magma ocean mantle may begin in a plate tectonic regime; (ii) planets may evolve from an initial hot stagnant-lid condition, through an episodic regime lasting 1-3 Gyr, into a plate-tectonic regime, and finally into a cold, senescent stagnant lid regime after ~10 Gyr of evolution, as heat production and basal temperatures wane, and (iii) the thermal state of the post magma ocean mantle, which effectively sets the initial conditions for the sub-solidus mantle convection phase of planetary evolution, is one of the most sensitive parameters affecting planetary evolution - systems with exactly the same physical parameters may exhibit completely different tectonics depending on the initial state employed. Estimates of the early Earth's temperatures suggest Earth may have begun in a hot stagnant lid mode, evolving into an episodic regime throughout most of the Archaean, before finally passing into a plate tectonic regime. The implication of these results is that, for many cases, plate tectonics may be a phase in planetary evolution between hot and cold stagnant states, rather than an end-member.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-92
Number of pages13
JournalPhysics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors
Volume255
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016

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