Research Articles

Three-Dimensional Spherical Models of Convection in the Earth's Mantle

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Science  26 May 1989:
Vol. 244, Issue 4907, pp. 950-955
DOI: 10.1126/science.244.4907.950


Three-dimensional, spherical models of mantle convection in the earth reveal that upwelling cylindrical plumes and downwelling planar sheets are the primary features of mantle circulation. Thus, subduction zones and descending sheetlike slabs in the mantle are fundamental characteristics of thermal convection in a spherical shell and are not merely the consequences of the rigidity of the slabs, which are cooler than the surrounding mantle. Cylindrical mantle plumes that cause hotspots such as Hawaii are probably the only form of active upwelling and are therefore not just secondary convective currents separate from the large-scale mantle circulation. Active sheetlike upwellings that could be associated with mid-ocean ridges did not develop in the model simulations, a result that is in agreement with evidence suggesting that ridges are passive phenomena resulting from the tearing of surface plates by the pull of descending slabs.