Is Plate Tectonics Speeding up with Time?

Friday, 19 December 2014: 3:25 PM
Kent C Condie, New Mexico Inst Mining & Tech, Socorro, NM, United States, Jun Korenaga, Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States and Sergei A Pisarevsky, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia
Cooling of the mantle is often assumed to result in a decrease in average global plate speeds with time. However, deformation in collisional orogens indicates the frequency of craton collisions increases from about 5/100 Myr 2.5 Ga to 10/100 Myr 200 Ma. Likewise, angular plate velocities weighted by craton area increase from an average of 25 deg/100Myr at 2 Ga to about 50 deg/100 Myr in the last 200 Myr. The number of cratons decreases rapidly from > 20 to ≤ 15 between 1.9 and 1.75 Ga as numerous Archean blocks were sutured together. Orogens and passive margins show the same two cycles of ocean basin closing: an early cycle from 2.5-1.9 Ga and a later cycle, which corresponds to the supercontinent cycle ≤ 1.9 Ga. Also recorded in the geologic record during the last 200 Myr is a decrease in the duration of passive continental margins from 400 Myr at 1.2 Ga to < 100 Myr during the last 200 Myr. And finally, assuming Gondwana and Pangea represent stages in the growth of a single supercontinent, the period of the supercontinent cycle has dropped from about 1000 Myr at 1.5 Ga to < 500 Myr in the last 500 Myr. All of these observations are consistent with an increase in average plate speeds with time, which is consistent with the geodynamic model of Korenaga (2006) suggesting that plate tectonics is speeding up with time. This could be due to a decrease in the magnitude of lithosphere dehydration stiffening as ambient mantle temperature falls with time. Alternatively or in addition, gradual hydration of the mantle by subduction may decrease mantle viscosity and increase convection rates.