The Feedback Between Continents and Compositional Anomalies in the Deep Mantle

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Julian Philip Lowman and Sean James Trim, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Findings from global seismic tomography studies suggest that the deep mantle may harbor a pair of broad, steep-sided, relatively dense compositionally anomalous provinces. The longevity and stability of these Large Low Shear-Wave Velocity Provinces (LLSVPs) has received considerable interest but their possible influence on surface motion has drawn lesser attention. Recent work using numerical mantle convection models investigated the feedback between oceanic plate motion and high density compositional anomalies. It was found that surface mobility is affected by the presence of compositional anomalies such that critical density contrasts and volumes of the enriched material produce a transition to stagnant-lid convection. For lesser volumes and density contrast (for example, volumes that are representative of the concentrations in the Earth's mantle) the presence of the compositional anomalies affects mean plate velocity and size when compared to the characteristics of systems in which the enriched material is absent. In addition, numerous studies and lines of evidence in the geologic record suggest that the presence of the density anomalies plays a role in determining the location of mantle upwellings, which in turn influence surface dynamics. In this study, we present the results from a study implementing a two-dimensional mantle convection model featuring an anomalously dense component and distinct continental and oceanic lithosphere. The mass, momentum, and energy conservation equations are solved using a hybrid spectral-finite difference code. Compositional variations are tracked using Lagrangian tracer particles. Mobile tectonic plates are modeled using a force-balance method and plate boundary locations evolve in response to interior stresses, plate velocity, age and lithospheric chemistry (i.e., oceanic versus continental). We examine the influence of continents on compositional anomaly morphology and longevity and the influence of compositional anomalies on continental size, mobility and aggregation. The influence of continents is isolated by comparing our calculations with cases in which continents are absent.