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Assimilating lithosphere and slab history in 4-D Earth models

Bower, Dan J. and Gurnis, Michael and Flament, Nicolas (2015) Assimilating lithosphere and slab history in 4-D Earth models. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 238 . pp. 8-22. ISSN 0031-9201. doi:10.1016/j.pepi.2014.10.013.

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We develop methods to incorporate paleogeographical constraints into numerical models of mantle convection. Through the solution of the convection equations, the models honor geophysical and geological data near the surface while predicting mantle flow and structure at depth and associated surface deformation. The methods consist of four constraints determined a priori from a plate history model: (1) plate velocities, (2) thermal structure of the lithosphere, (3) thermal structure of slabs in the upper mantle, and (4) velocity of slabs in the upper mantle. These constraints are implemented as temporally- and spatially-dependent conditions that are blended with the solution of the convection equations at each time step. We construct Earth-like regional models with oceanic and continental lithosphere, trench migration, oblique subduction, and asymmetric subduction to test the robustness of the methods by computing the temperature, velocity, and buoyancy flux of the lithosphere and slab. Full sphere convection models demonstrate how the methods can determine the flow associated with specific tectonic environments (e.g., back-arc basins, intraoceanic subduction zones) to address geological questions and compare with independent data, both at present-day and in the geological past (e.g., seismology, residual topography, stratigraphy). Using global models with paleogeographical constraints we demonstrate (1) subduction initiation at the Izu–Bonin–Mariana convergent margin and flat slab subduction beneath North America, (2) enhanced correlation of model slabs and fast anomalies in seismic tomography beneath North and South America, and (3) comparable amplitude of dynamic and residual topography in addition to improved spatial correlation of dynamic and residual topography lows.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Bower, Dan J.0000-0002-0673-4860
Gurnis, Michael0000-0003-1704-597X
Flament, Nicolas0000-0002-3237-0757
Additional Information:© 2015 Elsevier B.V. Received 4 December 2013; received in revised form 3 October 2014; accepted 31 October 2014; available online 10 November 2014. We thank Lijun Liu, Shijie Zhong, and Eh Tan for helpful suggestions regarding the implementation of internal velocity boundary conditions and Rhodri Davies and an anonymous reviewer for useful comments. We obtained CitcomS version 3.0 from the Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics (CIG). Most figures in this paper were produced using GMT. Supported by Statoil ASA and the NSF under grants EAR–1161046 and EAR–1247022.
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Subject Keywords:Mantle structure; Plate history; Mantle convection; Subduction; Dynamic topography; Data assimilation
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20150226-095015345
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Official Citation:Bower, D. J., Gurnis, M., & Flament, N. (2015). Assimilating lithosphere and slab history in 4-D Earth models. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 238(0), 8-22. doi:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:55246
Deposited On:26 Feb 2015 19:23
Last Modified:10 Nov 2021 20:43

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