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Dynamic Causes of the Relation Between Area and Age of the Ocean Floor

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Science  20 Apr 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6079, pp. 335-338
DOI: 10.1126/science.1219120

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Abstract

The distribution of seafloor ages determines fundamental characteristics of Earth such as sea level, ocean chemistry, tectonic forces, and heat loss from the mantle. The present-day distribution suggests that subduction affects lithosphere of all ages, but this is at odds with the theory of thermal convection that predicts that subduction should happen once a critical age has been reached. We used spherical models of mantle convection to show that plate-like behavior and continents cause the seafloor area-age distribution to be representative of present-day Earth. The distribution varies in time with the creation and destruction of new plate boundaries. Our simulations suggest that the ocean floor production rate previously reached peaks that were twice the present-day value.

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