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Interaction of weak faults and non-newtonian rheology produces plate tectonics in a 3D model of mantle flow

Zhong, Shijie and Gurnis, Michael (1996) Interaction of weak faults and non-newtonian rheology produces plate tectonics in a 3D model of mantle flow. Nature, 383 (6597). pp. 245-247. ISSN 0028-0836. doi:10.1038/383245a0.

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According to the theory of plate tectonics, relatively rigid plates are bounded by large faults; plate motion has negligible internal strain,with significant toroidal component to the velocity. By contrast, models of mantle flow with viscous rheology in an intact medium predict little toroidal component and substantial internal strain in surface motion. It has been suggested5 that the observed characteristics of plate motion are related to faulted plate margins, which are observed to be weak. Here we confirm this suggestion, using three-dimensional models of mantle flow that incorporate faults and the forces exerted on plates by subducting slabs ("slab pull') and mid-ocean ridges ('ridge push'). Our models show that plate-like motion results from the interaction between weak faults and a strain-weakening power-law rheology. Weak transform faults tend to guide plate motion. This guiding effect and the decoupling that occurs at thrust faults may result in oblique subduction. Convergent margins are associated with realistic trench and fore-bulge topography. By simultaneously predicting surface kinematics, topography and gravity, the models achieve a useful degree of tectonic realism.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle
Gurnis, Michael0000-0003-1704-597X
Additional Information:© 1996 Nature Publishing Group. Received 12 January; accepted 6 August 1996. We thank L. Moresi for providing the CITCOM software on which our fault algorithm is built, and U. Christensen, C. Gable and M. Simons for helpful reviews. This work was supported by the US NSF and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
David and Lucile Packard FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:6597
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20130301-094249038
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:37226
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:02 Mar 2013 00:06
Last Modified:09 Nov 2021 23:27

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