Dynamics and Significance of Plume-Induced Subduction Initiation: Numerical Modeling

Friday, 19 December 2014: 5:30 PM
Taras Gerya, ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, Robert J Stern, Univ Texas Dallas, Richardson, TX, United States, Marzieh Baes, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Geodynamic Modelling, Potsdam, Germany, Stephan V. Sobolev, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany and Scott Andrew Whattam, Korea University, Seoul, South Korea
How did the first subduction zone form? Most present-day subduction initiation mechanisms require acting plate forces and/or preexisting zones of lithospheric weakness, which are themselves the consequence of plate tectonics (Stern 2004). In contrast, spontaneous plume-induced subduction initiation - suggested on the basis of numerical thermo-mechanical experiments (Ueda et al., 2008) and supported by data re-interpretation of how subduction started in Late Cretaceous time around the Caribbean LIP (Whattam and Stern, 2014) - does not require pre-existing lithospheric fabric, such as are created by active plate tectonics and is viable for both stagnant lid and mobile/deformable lid conditions. Here, we present first results of high-resolution 3D numerical thermo-mechanical modeling of plume-induced subduction resulting from mechanical-magmatic interaction of an ascending thermal mantle plume with old, cold, dense oceanic lithosphere. We demonstrate that weakening of the strong lithosphere by plume-induced magmatism is the key factor enabling subduction initiation around the plume head. A large plume head is required to overcome ring confinement, and subduction initiation is further favored when plume activity and lithospheric weakening continues for several tens of Ma. We further discuss possible implications of this scenario for modern plate tectonics as well as for plate tectonics initiation in Precambrian time.


Stern, R.J., 2004. Subduction initiation: spontaneous and induced. EPSL 226, 275–292.

Ueda, K., Gerya, T., Sobolev, S.V., 2008. Subduction initiation by thermal–chemical plumes. PEPI 171, 296-312.

Whattam, S.A., Stern, R. 2014. Late Cretaceous plume-induced subduction initiation along the southern margin of the Caribbean and NW South America: The first documented example with implications for the onset of plate tectonics. Gondwana Research, (accepted).