Layered structure of the lithospheric mantle changes dynamics of craton extension


Corresponding author: J. Liao, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics, Institute of Geophysics, ETH Zurich, Sonneggstrasse 5, CH‒8092, Zurich, Switzerland. (


[1] Although presence of weak layers due to hydration and/or metasomatism in the lithospheric mantle of cratons has been detected by both geophysical and geochemical studies, its influence on craton evolution remains elusive. Using a 2‒D thermomechanical viscoelastoplastic numerical model, we studied the craton extension of a heterogeneous lithospheric mantle with a rheologically weak layer. Our results demonstrate that the effect of the weak mantle layer is twofold: (1) enhances deformation of the overlying lithosphere and (2) inhibits deformation of the underlying lithospheric mantle. Depending on the weak‒layer depth, the Moho temperature and extension rate, three extension patterns are found (1) localized mantle necking with exposed weak layer, (2) widespread mantle necking with exposed weak layer, and (3) widespread mantle necking without exposed weak layer. The presence of the weak mantle layer reduces long‒term acting boundary forces required to sustain extensional deformation of the lithosphere.