Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
  • Open Access

Three-dimensional dynamic models of subducting plate-overriding plate-upper mantle interaction


Corresponding author: W. P. Schellart, School of Geosciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, 3800, Australia. (


[1] We present fully dynamic generic three-dimensional laboratory models of progressive subduction with an overriding plate and a weak subduction zone interface. Overriding plate thickness (TOP) is varied systematically (in the range 0–2.5 cm scaling to 0–125 km) to investigate its effect on subduction kinematics and overriding plate deformation. The general pattern of subduction is the same for all models with slab draping on the 670 km discontinuity, comparable slab dip angles, trench retreat, trenchward subducting plate motion, and a concave trench curvature. The narrow slab models only show overriding plate extension. Subduction partitioning (vSP⊥ / (vSP⊥ + vT⊥)) increases with increasing TOP, where trenchward subducting plate motion (vSP⊥) increases at the expense of trench retreat (vT⊥). This results from an increase in trench suction force with increasing TOP, which retards trench retreat. An increase in TOP also corresponds to a decrease in overriding plate extension and curvature because a thicker overriding plate provides more resistance to deform. Overriding plate extension is maximum at a scaled distance of ~200–400 km from the trench, not at the trench, suggesting that basal shear tractions resulting from mantle flow below the overriding plate primarily drive extension rather than deviatoric tensional normal stresses at the subduction zone interface. The force that drives overriding plate extension is 5%–11% of the slab negative buoyancy force. The models show a positive correlation between vT⊥ and overriding plate extension rate, in agreement with observations. The results suggest that slab rollback and associated toroidal mantle flow drive overriding plate extension and backarc basin formation.