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Keywords:

  • subduction;
  • transition zone;
  • mantle;
  • seismic tomography;
  • subducted slab

When tectonic plates collide, the less buoyant plate will, in some cases, be forced beneath the other. At such subduction zones the sinking tectonic plate, known as a slab, does not follow a simple path from the surface to the deeper mantle. Instead, new research by Fukao and Obayashi suggests that subducting slabs pass through four largely distinct stages as they penetrate toward the core. To systematically catalog the stages of slab subduction, the authors analyzed roughly 10 million observations of the subsurface that were part of a tomographic study that used primary seismic waves to detect the structure of slabs in subduction zones around the Pacific.