Impact of regional mantle flow on subducting plate geometry and interplate stress: insights from physical modelling

David Boutelier, Alexander Cruden

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31 Citations (Scopus)


Physical models of subduction investigate the impact of regional mantle flow on the structure of the subducted slab and deformation of the downgoing and overriding plates. The initial mantle flow direction beneath the overriding plate can be horizontal or vertical, depending on its location with respect to the asthenospheric flow field. Imposed mantle flow produces either over or underpressure on the lower surface of the slab depending on the initial mantle flow pattern (horizontal or vertical, respectively). Overpressure promotes shallow dip subduction while underpressure tends to steepen the slab. Horizontal mantle flow with rates of 1 - 10 cm yr(-1) provides sufficient overpressure on a dense subducting lithosphere to obtain a subduction angle of similar to 60 degrees, while the same lithospheric slab sinks vertically when no flow is imposed. Vertical drag force (due to downward mantle flow) exerted on a slab can result in steep subduction if the slab is neutrally buoyant but fails to produce steep subduction of buoyant oceanic lithosphere. The strain regime in the overriding plate due to the asthenospheric drag force depends largely on slab geometry. When the slab dip is steeper than the interplate zone, the drag force produces negative additional normal stress on the interplate zone and tensile horizontal stress in the overriding plate. When the slab dip is shallower than the interplate zone, an additional positive normal stress is produced on the interplate zone and the overriding plate experiences additional horizontal compressive stress. However, the impact of the mantle drag force on interplate pressure is small compared to the influence of the slab pull force since these stress variations can only be observed when the slab is dense and interplate pressure is low.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719 - 732
Number of pages14
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

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