Interactions of 3D mantle flow and continental lithosphere near passive margins

Rebecca Farrington, David Robert Stegman, Louis-Noel Moresi, Michael Andrew Sandiford, David Alexander May

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Abstract

We investigate the time evolution of 3D numerical models of convection in the upper mantle which incorporate both plate motions and thick continental lithosphere. The resultant flow in the upper mantle is driven by a combination of bottom heated convection and applied shear velocity boundary conditions that represents plate motion. Both the plate velocity and continental lithosphere topography are varied in a way to assess the general influence of 3D geometry as well as a more specific tectonic analogue of the Australian plate. Transient thermal events offshore of the trailing passive margin are observed and include plume migration, boundary layer instability growth at the passive margin and variations in surface heat flux. The geometry and plate velocity both play a significant role in controlling the magnitude and duration of these transient features. In particular, there are large differences between the different models in the oceanic region downstream of the trailing edge of the continent. At near-stationary plate speeds, cold linear downwelling sheets propagate away from the 3D edge of the continent, with regions offshore of the continents central axis localising hot cylindrical upwelling plumes. At very fast plate speeds, the shear flow is dominated by the plate motions. This causes regions neighbouring the trailing edge of the continent to produce broad, hot upwellings and the cold linear sheets to migrate around the continent. At moderate (2 cm/yr) plate speeds, oceanic lithosphere neighbouring the passive margin along the trailing edge of the continent is buffered by cold, downwelling instabilities sinking along the edges of the continental lithosphere. Such neighbouring regions are subjected to larger heat flux than for regions distant to the passive margin, yet also record smaller and less variable vertical surface velocities. These dynamics have implications for volcanism and surface topography, for which 3D aspects play a significant role.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20 - 28
Number of pages8
JournalTectonophysics
Volume483
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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