A Model for Plate Tectonic Evolution of Mantle Layers

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Science  22 Oct 1971:
Vol. 174, Issue 4007, pp. 400-404
DOI: 10.1126/science.174.4007.400


In plate tectonic theory, lithosphere that descends into the mantle has a largely derivative composition, because it is produced as a refractory residue by partial melting, and cannot be resorbed readily by the parent mantle. We suggest that lithosphere sinks through the asthenosphere, or outer mantle, and accumulates progressively beneath to form an accretionary mesosphere, or inner mantle. According to this model, there is an irreversible physicochemical evolution of the mantle and its layers. We make the key assumption that the rate at which mass has been transferred from the lithosphere to the mesosphere is proportional to the rate of radiogenic heat production. Calculations of mass transfer with time demonstrate that the entire mass of the present mesosphere could have been produced in geologically reasonable times (3 x 109 to 4.5 x 109 years). The model is consistent with the generation of the continental crust during the last 3 x 1O9 years and predicts an end to plate tectonic behavior within the next 109 years.