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Solid Earth An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

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© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
05 Apr 2016
Review status
A revision of this discussion paper was accepted for the journal Solid Earth (SE).
The Subduction Dichotomy of Strong Plates and Weak Slabs
Robert I. Petersen1, Dave R. Stegman1, and Paul J. Tackley2 1Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics University of California, San Diego 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla CA 92093-0225, USA
2Institute für Geophysik ETH Zürich Sonneggstrasse 5, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland
Abstract. A key element of plate tectonics on Earth is that the lithosphere is subducting into the mantle. Subduction results from forces that bend and pull the lithosphere into the interior of the Earth. Once subducted, lithospheric slabs are further modified by dynamic forces in the mantle and their sinking is inhibited by the increase in viscosity of the lower mantle. These forces are resisted by the material strength of the lithosphere. Using geodynamic models we investigate several subduction models wherein we control material strength by setting a maximum viscosity for the surface plates and the subducted slabs independently. We find that the models which produce results most analogous to observations of subduction on Earth are characterized by a dichotomy of lithosphere strengths. These models have strong lithospheric plates at the surface which promotes Earth-like single-sided subduction. At the same time these models have weakened lithospheric subducted slabs which pile, bend or lie flat at the top of the lower mantle reproducing the spectrum of slab morphologies observed on Earth.

Citation: Petersen, R. I., Stegman, D. R., and Tackley, P. J.: The Subduction Dichotomy of Strong Plates and Weak Slabs, Solid Earth Discuss., doi:10.5194/se-2016-56, in review, 2016.
Robert I. Petersen et al.
Interactive discussionStatus: closed
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment
Printer-friendly Version - Printer-friendly version      Supplement - Supplement
RC1: 'Review', Anonymous Referee #1, 26 Apr 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC1: 'Response to Referee #1', Robert Petersen, 21 Jun 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
RC2: 'Review 2', Boris Kaus, 26 May 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC2: 'Response to Referee #2', Robert Petersen, 21 Jun 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
Robert I. Petersen et al.
Robert I. Petersen et al.


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Short summary
In this study we propose a dichotomy in the strength profile of tectonic plates. This apparent dichotomy suggests that plates at the Earth's surface are significantly, orders of magnitude, stronger than the subducted slabs in the Earth's interior. Strong plates promote single sided, Earth-like subduction. Once subducted strong slabs transmit dynamic stresses and disrupt subduction. Slabs which are weakened do not disrupt subduction and furthermore exhibit a variety of observed morphologies.
In this study we propose a dichotomy in the strength profile of tectonic plates. This apparent...