Multi-scale dynamics and rheology of mantle flow with plates

Laura Alisic, Michael Gurnis, Georg Stadler, Carsten Burstedde, Omar Ghattas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fundamental issues in our understanding of plate and mantle dynamics remain unresolved, including the rheology and state of stress of plates and slabs; the coupling between plates, slabs and mantle; and the flow around slabs. To address these questions, models of global mantle flow with plates are computed using adaptive finite elements, and compared to a variety of observational constraints. The dynamically consistent instantaneous models include a composite rheology with yielding, and incorporate details of the thermal buoyancy field. Around plate boundaries, the local resolution is 1km, which allows us to study highly detailed features in a globally consistent framework. Models that best fit plateness criteria and plate motion data have strong slabs with high stresses. We find a strong dependence of global plate motions, trench rollback, net rotation, plateness, and strain rate on the stress exponent in the nonlinear viscosity; the yield stress is found to be important only if it is smaller than the ambient convective stress. Due to strong coupling between plates, slabs, and the surrounding mantle, the presence of lower mantle anomalies affect plate motions. The flow in and around slabs, microplate motion, and trench rollback are intimately linked to the amount of yielding in the subducting slab hinge, slab morphology, and the presence of high viscosity structures in the lower mantle beneath the slab.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberB10402
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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