Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth

Kinematics of subduction and subduction-induced flow in the upper mantle



[1] Results of fluid dynamical experiments are presented to model the kinematics of lithospheric subduction in the upper mantle. The experiments model a dense high-viscosity plate (subducting lithosphere) overlying a less dense low-viscosity layer (upper mantle). The overriding lithosphere is not incorporated. Several important features of slab behavior were investigated including the temporal variability of hinge line migration, the kinematic behavior of the slab and the subduction-induced upper mantle flow. Both fixed and free trailing edge boundary conditions of the subducting plate were investigated. Results show that hinge line retreat is a natural consequence of subduction of a negatively buoyant slab. The migration rate increases until the slab approaches the upper-lower mantle discontinuity, resulting in a decrease in migration rate followed by a renewed increase and finally approaching a steady state. Slab retreat results in mantle flow, with material initially located underneath the slab flowing around the lateral slab edges toward the mantle wedge. Experimental results indicate that all rollback-induced flow occurs around the lateral slab edges, forcing the hinge line to attain a convex shape toward the direction of retreat. No signs for poloidal flow underneath the slab tip have been detected. Only a small component of toroidal-type flow was observed underneath slanting slab tips. For a fixed trailing edge, the slab does not sink vertically downward, but sinks at an angle in a regressive manner. For a free trailing edge, slab sinking is oriented more vertically while the surface part of the subducting plate is pulled into the subduction zone.