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Relating rapid plate-motion variations to plate-boundary forces in global coupled models of the mantle/lithosphere system: Effects of topography and friction

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Recent high-resolution models of past plate motions and their comparison with plate motion models inferred from space geodetic techniques reveal a number of short-term variations in global plate velocities over the past 10 Myrs. Such variations serve as powerful probe into the nature and magnitude of plate boundary forces, because they are unlikely to originate from changes in mantle buoyancy forces, which evolve on longer time scales. Here we explore the constraints of the velocity record using a novel coupled modeling-approach of global neo-tectonic simulations combined with realistic plate driving forces obtained from mantle circulation models (MCMs) to arrive at simple global budgets of mantle, lithosphere and plate boundary forces. We focus on three plate boundary systems along the Nazca/South America plate margin, the Aleutian trench and the India/Australia plate boundary to show that gravitational spreading from high topography in the Andes and Tibet contributes substantially to the global plate tectonic force balance and that this contribution is sufficient to explain some 35% of recent velocity changes over the Earth's surface, including among others the observed 30% convergence reduction between the Nazca/South America plates. Our models make a number of specific predictions such as significant lateral variations in plate coupling forces along a given margin revealed by trench-parallel gravity and bathymetry anomalies and the occurrence of large earthquakes, as well as differences by as much as a factor of five from margin to margin. They also support the notion of a relatively young plate boundary separating the India and Australia plates, which has been previously suggested based on independent observations. Importantly, we find that the modeled Nazca/South America convergence reduction explains recent spreading-rate variations in the South Atlantic and South Pacific, which points to the importance of far field effects on the adjacent continents in explaining the spreading record of oceanic basins. Our numerical results demonstrate (a) that detailed budgets of forces acting upon plates can be obtained and (b) support the notion of strong forcing along weak plate boundaries.
OriginalsprogEngelsk
TidsskriftTectonophysics
Vol/bind474
Udgave nummer1-2
Sider (fra-til)393-404
Antal sider12
ISSN0040-1951
DOI
StatusUdgivet - 1 sep. 2009
Eksternt udgivetJa

ID: 138731354