Earthquakes and plastic deformation of anhydrous slab mantle in double Wadati-Benioff zones



[1] Double Wadati-Benioff seismic zones (DSZ) with two parallel planes of seismicity separated by 15–30 km are a global feature of subduction zones in the 50–200 km depth range. Upper plane seismicity is generally attributed to dehydration of the oceanic crust but the origin of the lower seismicity plane is debated. Serpentine or hydrous-phase dehydration embrittlement is a commonly advocated mechanism that implies significant slab mantle hydration. High-resolution seismic tomography revealed low seismic velocities in the lower seismicity plane that are better explained by seismic anisotropy of anhydrous deformed peridotites than by serpentinization. Earthquakes correlate with anisotropic planar shear zones and favor a shear instability mechanism as the cause of lower plane seismicity without requiring the presence of water in the center of subducting slabs. The contribution of the subducted lithospheric mantle to the water budget of subduction zones is thus likely limited to the first 2–3 kilometers beneath oceanic crust.