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The Initiation of Subduction: Criticality by Addition of Water?

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Science  19 Oct 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5542, pp. 578-580
DOI: 10.1126/science.1063891

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Abstract

Subduction is a major process of plate tectonics; however, its initiation is not understood. We used high-resolution (less than 1 kilometer) finite-element models based on rheological data of the lithosphere to investigate the role played by water on initiating subduction. A solid-fluid thermomechanical instability is needed to drive a cold, stiff, and negatively buoyant lithosphere into the mantle. This instability can be triggered slowly by sedimentary loading over a time span of 100 million years. Our results indicate that subduction can proceed by a double feedback mechanism (thermoelastic and thermal-rheological) promoted by lubrication due to water.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: klaus{at}tomo.ig.erdw.ethz.ch

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