Plate tectonics on the Earth triggered by plume-induced subduction initiation



Plate tectonics on the Earth triggered by plume-induced subduction initiation



Scientific theories of how subduction and plate tectonics began on Earth—and what the tectonic structure of Earth was before this—remain enigmatic and contentious1. Understanding viable scenarios for the onset of subduction and plate tectonics2, 3 is hampered by the fact that subduction initiation processes must have been markedly different before the onset of global plate tectonics because most present-day subduction initiation mechanisms require acting plate forces and existing zones of lithospheric weakness, which are both consequences of plate tectonics4. However, plume-induced subduction initiation5, 6, 7, 8, 9 could have started the first subduction zone without the help of plate tectonics. Here, we test this mechanism using high-resolution three-dimensional numerical thermomechanical modelling. We demonstrate that three key physical factors combine to trigger self-sustained subduction: (1) a strong, negatively buoyant oceanic lithosphere; (2) focused magmatic weakening and thinning of lithosphere above the plume; and (3) lubrication of the slab interface by hydrated crust. We also show that plume-induced subduction could only have been feasible in the hotter early Earth for old oceanic plates. In contrast, younger plates favoured episodic lithospheric drips rather than self-sustained subduction and global plate tectonics.

Source Nature 527, 221–225


Nature 527, 221–225


12 November 2015




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T. V. Gerya, R. J. Stern, M. Baes, S. V. Sobolev & S. A. Whattam, “Plate tectonics on the Earth triggered by plume-induced subduction initiation,” Uwekind Resource Centre, accessed July 6, 2020,