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Backarc lithospheric thickness and serpentine stability control slab-mantle coupling depths in subduction zones
  • Buchanan C Kerswell,
  • Matthew J Kohn,
  • Taras V. Gerya
Buchanan C Kerswell
Boise State University

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Matthew J Kohn
Boise State University
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Taras V. Gerya
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH-Zurich)
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A key feature of subduction zone geodynamics and thermal structure is the point at which the slab and mantle mechanically couple. This point defines the depth at which traction between slab and mantle begins to drive mantle wedge circulation and also corresponds with a major increase in temperature along the slab-mantle interface. Here we consider the effects of the backarc thermal structure and slab thermal parameter on coupling depth using two-dimensional thermomechanical models of oceanic-continental convergent margins. Coupling depth is strongly correlated with backarc lithospheric thickness, and weakly correlated with slab thermal parameter. Slab-mantle coupling becomes significant where weak, hydrous antigorite reacts to form strong, anhydrous olivine and pyroxene along the slab-mantle interface. Highly efficient (predominantly advective) heat transfer in the asthenospheric mantle wedge and inefficient (predominantly conductive) heat transfer in the lithospheric mantle wedge results in competing feedbacks that stabilize the antigorite-out reaction at depths determined primarily by the mechanical thickness of the backarc lithosphere. For subduction zone segments where backarc lithospheric thickness can be inverted from surface heat flow, our results provide a regression model that can be applied with slab thermal parameter to predict coupling depth. Consistently high backarc heat flow in circum-Pacific subduction zones suggests uniformly thin overriding plates likely regulated by lithospheric erosion caused by hydration and melting processes under volcanic arcs. This may also explain a common depth of slab-mantle coupling globally.
Jun 2021Published in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems volume 22 issue 6. 10.1029/2020GC009304