Plate Motions and Stresses from Global Dynamic Models

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Science  17 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6070, pp. 838-843
DOI: 10.1126/science.1214209

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Delineating the driving forces behind plate motions is important for understanding the processes that have shaped Earth throughout its history. However, the accurate prediction of plate motions, boundary-zone deformation, rigidity, and stresses remains a difficult frontier in numerical modeling. We present a global dynamic model that produces a good fit to such parameters by accounting for lateral viscosity variations in the top 200 kilometers of Earth, together with forces associated with topography and lithosphere structure, as well as coupling with mantle flow. The relative importance of shallow structure versus deeper mantle flow varies over Earth’s surface. Our model reveals where mantle flow contributes toward driving or resisting plate motions. Furthermore, subducted slabs need not act as strong stress guides to satisfy global observations of plate motions and stress.

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