Mantle plume dynamics at the rear of a retreating slab

Catherine A. Mériaux, Dave A. May, John Mansour, Owen Kaluza

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In this paper, we present 3-D numerical simulations in which a compositional mantle plume rises through a shallow mantle layer at the rear of a retreating slab. The slab-plume buoyancy flux ratio Bs/Bp is varied from 3 to 30 over nine slab-plume simulations. The plume causes an overall decrease of the slab retreat rate from 15 to 7 % in the corresponding range B-s/B-p=[3,30]. The retreat rate decrease occurs in two stages: the first decrease occurs remotely when plume and slab are hundreds of kilometres apart; the second decrease is linked to the slab-plume-head impact. Continuous tracking of key positions along the plume head and conduit together with velocity profiling further shows a very close interplay between the conduit and plume head dynamics. In particular, the combination of the slab- and plume(head)-induced flows at the rear of the slab increases the advection and tilt of the conduit and causes its flaring with height in the direction parallel to the trench. As a result, the conduit source slowly drifts away from the slab by hundreds of kilometres and flares by one and a half times its original radius over 30 Myr of plume head spreading. The conduit tilt and flaring result in an increasingly unbalanced azimuthal distribution of the incoming plume flux from the feeding conduit into the head. These changes in the feeding conditions coupled with the mantle flow at the level of the plume head lead to the asymmetric spreading of plume material beneath the plate in the preferential direction that is parallel to the trench. Upon its arrival against the slab, it can be a front of buoyant material set to subduct along the slab width that has widened up to two and a half times its initial dimension. In nature, it is expected to extend from hundreds to thousands of kilometres depending on the slab-plume buoyancy flux ratio. To our knowledge, this study is the first to highlight the inter-relationships between a plume head and its feeding conditions in the plume source region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1146-1163
Number of pages18
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Dynamics: convection currents, and mantle plumes
  • Mantle processes
  • Numerical modelling
  • Subduction zone processes

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