Overriding Plate Controls on Subduction Zone Evolution

Friday, 19 December 2014: 5:45 PM
Wendy Katherine Sharples, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, Margarete Ann Jadamec, University of Houston, Dept. of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Houston, TX, United States, Louis Noel Moresi, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia and Fabio a Capitanio, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Seismic data, rock deformation experiments, and geochemical studies indicate variability in the thickness, buoyancy, and strength of the lithosphere at plate boundaries. However, geodynamic models of subduction commonly either omit an overriding plate or do not investigate role of the variation in overriding plate properties on the subduction evolution. We present time-dependent numerical models of subduction that vary the overriding plate thickness, strength, and density and allow for a plate interface that evolves with time via an anisotropic brittle failure rheology. We examine the emergence of (a) asymmetric versus symmetric subduction, (b) trench retreat versus advance, (c) subduction zone geometry, (d) slab stagnation versus penetration into the lower mantle, and (e) flat slab subduction. The majority of the models result in sustained asymmetric subduction. The models demonstrate that trench retreat is correlated with a thin overriding plate, whereas, trench advance is correlated with a thick and/or strong overriding plate. Slab dip, measured at a depth below the plate boundary interface, has a negative correlation with an increase in overriding plate thickness. Overriding plate thickness exerts a first order control over slab penetration into the lower mantle, with penetration most commonly occurring in models with a thick overriding plate. Periods of flat slab subduction occur with thick, strong overriding plates producing strong plate boundary interface coupling. The results provide insight into how the overriding plate plays a role in establishing advancing and retreating subduction, as well as providing an explanation for the variation of slab geometry observed in subduction zones on Earth.