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Evolving force balance during incipient subduction

Gurnis, Michael and Hall, Chad and Lavier, Luc (2004) Evolving force balance during incipient subduction. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 5 (7). 1029/2003GC000681. ISSN 1525-2027. http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:GURggg04

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Abstract

Nearly half of all active subduction zones initiated during the Cenozoic. All subduction zones associated with active back arc extension have initiated since the Eocene, hinting that back arc extension may be intimately associated with an interval (several tens of Myr) following subduction initiation. That such a large proportion of subduction zones are young indicates that subduction initiation is a continuous process in which the net resisting force associated with forming a new subduction zone can be overcome during the normal evolution of plates. Subduction initiation is known to have occurred in a variety of tectonic settings: old fracture zones, transform faults, and extinct spreading centers and through polarity reversal behind active subduction zones. Although occurring within different tectonic settings, four known subduction initiation events (Izu-Bonin-Mariana (IBM) along a fracture zone, Tonga-Kermadec along an extinct subduction boundary, New Hebrides within a back arc, and Puysegur-Fiordland along a spreading center) were typified by rapid uplift within the forearc followed by sudden subsidence. Other constraints corroborate the compressive nature of IBM and Tonga-Kermadec during initiation. Using an explicit finite element method within a two-dimensional domain, we explore the evolving force balance during initiation in which elastic flexure, viscous flow, plastic failure, and heat transport are all considered. In order to tie theory with observation, known tectonic settings of subduction initiation are used as initial and boundary conditions. We systematically explore incipient compression of a homogeneous plate, a former spreading center, and a fracture zone. The force balance is typified by a rapid growth in resisting force as the plate begins bending, reaching a maximum value dependent on plate thickness, but typically ranging from 2 to 3 × 1012 N/m for cases that become self-sustaining. This is followed by a drop in stress once a shear zone extends through the plate. The formation of a throughgoing fault is associated with rapid uplift on the hanging wall and subsidence on the footwall. Cumulative convergence, not the rate of convergence, is the dominant control on the force balance. Viscous tractions influence the force balance only if the viscosity of the asthenosphere is >1020 Pa s, and then only after plate failure. Following plate failure, buoyancy of the oceanic crust leads to a linear increase with crustal thickness in the work required to initiate subduction. The total work done is also influenced by the rate of lithospheric failure. A self-sustaining subduction zone does not form from a homogeneous plate. A ridge placed under compression localizes subduction initiation, but the resisting ridge push force is not nearly as large as the force required to bend the subducting plate. The large initial bending resistance can be entirely eliminated in ridge models, explaining the propensity for new subduction zones to form through polarity reversals. A fracture zone (FZ) placed in compression leads to subduction initiation with rapid extension of the overriding plate. A FZ must be underthrust by the older plate for ~100–150 km before a transition from forced to self-sustaining states is reached. In FZ models the change in force during transition is reflected by a shift from forearc uplift to subsidence. Subduction initiation is followed by trench retreat and back arc extension. Moderate resisting forces associated with modeled subduction initiation are consistent with the observed youth of Pacific subduction zones. The models provide an explanation for the compressive state of western Pacific margins before and during subduction initiation, including IBM and Tonga-Kermadec in the Eocene, and the association of active back arcs with young subduction zones. On the basis of our dynamic models and the relative poles of rotation between Pacific and Australia during the Eocene, we predict that the northern segment of the Tonga-Kermadec convergent margin would have initiated earlier with a progressive southern migration of the transition between forced and self-sustaining states.


Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Copyright 2004 by the American Geophysical Union. Received: 16 December 2003; Revised: 25 April 2004; Accepted: 12 May 2004; Published: 10 July 2004. The calculations presented here were performed on the parallel supercomputers of the Center for Advanced Computer Research, California Institute of Technology. This research has been funded by NSF grants EAR-0003558 and EAR-0107137. The paper represents contribution 9035 of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology. We thank Yuri Podlachikov and Alexei Poliakov for the software (PARAVOZ) that formed the core of the elastoplastic component of our code. Discussions with S.-M. Lee, R. D. Müller, R. Stern, J. Stock, and R. Sutherland have helped us better appreciate the constraints on subduction initiation. We benefited from detailed comments on the manuscript by R. Stern, R. Buck, and P. van Keken.
Subject Keywords:lithosphere; plate tectonics; subduction; 8120 Tectonophysics: Dynamics of lithosphere and mantle—general; 8122 Tectonophysics: Dynamics, gravity and tectonics
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:GURggg04
Persistent URL:http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:GURggg04
Alternative URL:http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2003GC000681
Official Citation:Gurnis, M., C. Hall, and L. Lavier (2004), Evolving force balance during incipient subduction, Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 5, Q07001, doi:10.1029/2003GC000681.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:1097
Collection:CaltechAUTHORS
Deposited By: Archive Administrator
Deposited On:19 Dec 2005
Last Modified:26 Dec 2012 08:42

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