Research Article

The Dynamics of Plate Tectonics and Mantle Flow: From Local to Global Scales

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Science  27 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5995, pp. 1033-1038
DOI: 10.1126/science.1191223

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Abstract

Plate tectonics is regulated by driving and resisting forces concentrated at plate boundaries, but observationally constrained high-resolution models of global mantle flow remain a computational challenge. We capitalized on advances in adaptive mesh refinement algorithms on parallel computers to simulate global mantle flow by incorporating plate motions, with individual plate margins resolved down to a scale of 1 kilometer. Back-arc extension and slab rollback are emergent consequences of slab descent in the upper mantle. Cold thermal anomalies within the lower mantle couple into oceanic plates through narrow high-viscosity slabs, altering the velocity of oceanic plates. Viscous dissipation within the bending lithosphere at trenches amounts to ~5 to 20% of the total dissipation through the entire lithosphere and mantle.

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