Plate Interface Rheology, Mechanical Coupling and Accretion during Subduction Infancy
Abstract:Understanding subduction rheology in both space and time has been a challenge since the advent of plate tectonics. We herein focus on "subduction infancy", that is the first ~1-5 My immediately following subduction nucleation, when a newly born slab penetrates into the upper plate mantle and heats up. The only remnants of this critical yet elusive geodynamic step are thin metamorphic soles, commonly found beneath pristine, 100-1000 km long portions of oceanic lithosphere emplaced on continents (i.e., ophiolites).
Through the (i) worldwide compilation of pressure-temperature conditions of metamorphic sole formation augmented by pseudosection thermodynamic modeling, (ii) calculations of the viscosity of materials along the plate interface and (iii) generic numerical thermal models, we provide a conceptual model of dynamic plate interface processes during subduction infancy (and initiation s.l.).
We show in particular how major rheological switches across the subduction interface control slab penetration, and the formation of metamorphic soles. Due to the downward progression of hydration and weakening of the mantle wedge with cooling, the lower plate (basalt, sediment) and the upper plate (mantle wedge) rheologies equalize and switch over a restricted temperature-time-depth interval (e.g., at ~800°C and ~1 GPa, during 0.1-2 My, for high-temperature metamorphic sole formation). These switches result in episodes of maximum interplate mechanical coupling, thereby slicing the top of the slab and welding pieces (basalt, sediment) to the base of the mantle wedge. Similar mechanical processes likely apply for the later, deeper accretion and exhumation of high-temperature oceanic eclogites in serpentinite mélanges, or for the accretion of larger tectonic slices.
This model provides constraints on the effective rheologies of the crust and mantle and general understanding, at both rock and plate scale, for accretion processes and early slab dynamics.