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

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© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
08 Feb 2017
Review status
A revision of this discussion paper was accepted for the journal Solid Earth (SE) and is expected to appear here in due course.
Breaking supercontinents; no need to choose between passive or active
Martin Wolstencroft1,2 and Huw Davies2 1JBA Risk Management, Skipton, UK
2School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University, CF10 3YE, Wales, UK
Abstract. Much debate has centred on whether continental break-up is predominantly caused by active upwelling in the mantle (e.g. plumes) or by long-range extensional stresses in the lithosphere. We propose the hypothesis that global supercontinent break-up events should always involve both. The fundamental principle involved is the conservation of mass within the spherical shell of the mantle, which requires a return flow for any major upwelling beneath a supercontinent. This shallow horizontal return flow away from the locus of upwelling produces extensional stress. We demonstrate this principle with numerical models, which simultaneously exhibit both upwellings and significant lateral flow in the upper mantle. For non-global break-up the geometry of the mantle will be less influential, weakening this process. This observation should motivate future studies of continental break-up to explicitly consider the global perspective, even when observations or models are of regional extent.

Citation: Wolstencroft, M. and Davies, H.: Breaking supercontinents; no need to choose between passive or active, Solid Earth Discuss.,, in review, 2017.
Martin Wolstencroft and Huw Davies
Martin Wolstencroft and Huw Davies


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