Geophysical Research Letters

Influence of continental roots and asthenosphere on plate-mantle coupling



[1] The shear tractions that mantle flow exerts on the base of Earth's lithosphere contribute to plate-driving forces and lithospheric stresses. We investigate the sensitivity of these tractions to sub-lithospheric viscosity variations by comparing shear tractions computed from a mantle flow model featuring laterally-varying lithosphere and asthenosphere viscosity with those from a model with layered viscosity. Lateral viscosity variations generally do not change the direction of shear tractions, but deeply penetrating continental roots increase traction magnitudes by a factor of 2–5 compared to 100 km thick lithosphere. A low-viscosity asthenosphere decreases traction magnitudes by a smaller amount, and is important only if >100 km thick. Increased plate-mantle coupling beneath thick continental lithosphere may increase plate-driving forces, surface deformation, and mantle-derived lithospheric stresses in these regions. By contrast, a low-viscosity asthenosphere does not decouple the lithosphere from mantle flow, highlighting the geological importance of mantle tractions on the lithosphere.