Control of slab width on subduction-induced upper mantle flow and associated upwellings: Insights from analog models

Vincent Strak, Wouter P. Schellart

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The impact of slab width W (i.e., trench-parallel extent) on subduction-induced upper mantle flow remains uncertain. We present a series of free subduction analog models where W was systematically varied to upscaled values of 250–3600 km to investigate its effect on subducting plate kinematics and upper mantle return flow around the lateral slab edges. We particularly focused on the upwelling component of mantle flow, which might promote decompression melting and could thereby produce intraplate volcanism. The models show that W has a strong control on trench curvature and on the trench retreat, subducting plate, and subduction velocities, generally in good agreement with previous modeling studies. Upper mantle flow velocity maps produced by means of a stereoscopic particle image velocimetry technique indicate that the magnitude of the subduction-induced mantle flow around the lateral slab edges correlates positively with the product of W and trench retreat velocity. For all models an important upwelling component is always produced close to the lateral slab edges, with higher magnitudes for wider slabs. The trench-parallel lateral extent of this upwelling component is the same irrespective of W, but its maximum magnitude gets located closer to the subducting plate in the trench-normal direction and it is more focused when W increases. For W ≤ 2000 km the upwelling occurs laterally (in the trench-parallel direction) next to the subslab domain and the mantle wedge domain, while for W ≥ 2000 km it is located only next to the subslab domain and focuses closer to the trench tip, because of stronger poloidal flow in the mantle wedge extending laterally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4641-4654
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • analog modeling
  • mantle flow
  • slab edges
  • slab width
  • stereoscopic PIV
  • subduction

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