Slab (geology)

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A model of the subducting Farallon Slab under North America Farallon Plate.jpg
A model of the subducting Farallon Slab under North America

In geology, a slab is the portion of a tectonic plate that is being subducted. [1]

Geology The study of the composition, structure, physical properties, and history of Earths components, and the processes by which they are shaped.

Geology is an earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time. Geology can also refer to the study of the solid features of any terrestrial planet or natural satellite such as Mars or the Moon. Modern geology significantly overlaps all other earth sciences, including hydrology and the atmospheric sciences, and so is treated as one major aspect of integrated earth system science and planetary science.

Subduction A geological process at convergent tectonic plate boundaries where one plate moves under the other

Subduction is a geological process that takes place at convergent boundaries of tectonic plates where one plate moves under another and is forced to sink due to gravity into the mantle. Regions where this process occurs are known as subduction zones. Rates of subduction are typically in centimeters per year, with the average rate of convergence being approximately two to eight centimeters per year along most plate boundaries.

Slabs constitute an important part of the global plate tectonic system. They drive plate tectonics – both by pulling along the lithosphere to which they are attached in a processes known as slab pull and by inciting currents in the mantle (slab suction). [2] They cause volcanism due to flux melting of the mantle wedge, and they affect the flow and thermal evolution of the Earth's mantle. Their motion can cause dynamic uplift and subsidence of the Earth's surface, forming shallow seaways [3] and potentially rearranging drainage patterns. [4]

Lithosphere The rigid, outermost shell of a terrestrial-type planet or natural satellite that is defined by its rigid mechanical properties

A lithosphere is the rigid, outermost shell of a terrestrial-type planet, or natural satellite, that is defined by its rigid mechanical properties. On Earth, it is composed of the crust and the portion of the upper mantle that behaves elastically on time scales of thousands of years or greater. The outermost shell of a rocky planet, the crust, is defined on the basis of its chemistry and mineralogy.

Slab pull is that part of the motion of a tectonic plate that is caused by its subduction. Plate motion is partly driven by the weight of cold, dense plates sinking into the mantle at oceanic trenches. This force and slab suction account for almost all of the force driving plate tectonics. The ridge push at rifts contributes only 5 to 10%.

Slab suction forces are one of the major plate tectonic driving forces. Slab suction occurs when a subducting slab drives flow in the nearby mantle. This flow then exerts shear tractions on nearby plates. This driving force is important when the slabs are not strongly attached to the rest of their respective tectonic plate. They cause both the subducting and overriding plate to move in the direction of the subduction zone. Slab suction is the weakest of the three major forces involved in plate motion, the others being slab pull, the strongest, and ridge push.

Geologists have imaged slabs down to the seismic discontinuities between the upper and lower mantle and to the core–mantle boundary. About 100 slabs have been described at depth, and where and when they subducted. [5] Slab subduction is the mechanism by which lithospheric material is mixed back into the Earth's mantle.

Core–mantle boundary Discontinuity where the bottom of the planets mantle meets the outer layer of the core

The core–mantle boundary of the Earth lies between the planet's silicate mantle and its liquid iron-nickel outer core. This boundary is located at approximately 2891 km (1796 mi) depth beneath the Earth's surface. The boundary is observed via the discontinuity in seismic wave velocities at that depth due to the differences between the acoustic impedances of the solid mantle and the molten outer core. P-wave velocities are much slower in the outer core than in the deep mantle while S-waves do not exist at all in the liquid portion of the core. Recent evidence suggests a distinct boundary layer directly above the CMB possibly made of a novel phase of the basic perovskite mineralogy of the deep mantle named post-perovskite. Seismic tomography studies have shown significant irregularities within the boundary zone and appear to be dominated by the African and Pacific large low-shear-velocity provinces (LLSVPs).

See also

In geology, a slab window is a gap that forms in a subducted oceanic plate when a mid-ocean ridge meets with a subduction zone and plate divergence at the ridge and convergence at the subduction zone continue, causing the ridge to be subducted. Formation of a slab window produces an area where the crust of the over-riding plate is lacking a rigid lithospheric mantle component and thus is exposed to hot asthenospheric mantle. This produces anomalous thermal, chemical and physical effects in the mantle that can dramatically change the over-riding plate by interrupting the established tectonic and magmatic regimes. In general, the data used to identify possible slab windows comes from seismic tomography and heat flow studies.

Related Research Articles

Plate tectonics The scientific theory that describes the large-scale motions of Earths lithosphere

Plate tectonics is a scientific theory describing the large-scale motion of seven large plates and the movements of a larger number of smaller plates of the Earth's lithosphere, since tectonic processes began on Earth between 3 and 3.5 billion years ago. The model builds on the concept of continental drift, an idea developed during the first decades of the 20th century. The geoscientific community accepted plate-tectonic theory after seafloor spreading was validated in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Oceanic trench Long and narrow depressions of the sea floor

Oceanic trenches are topographic depressions of the sea floor, relatively narrow in width, but very long. These oceanographic features are the deepest parts of the ocean floor. Oceanic trenches are a distinctive morphological feature of convergent plate boundaries, along which lithospheric plates move towards each other at rates that vary from a few millimeters to over ten centimeters per year. A trench marks the position at which the flexed, subducting slab begins to descend beneath another lithospheric slab. Trenches are generally parallel to a volcanic island arc, and about 200 km (120 mi) from a volcanic arc. Oceanic trenches typically extend 3 to 4 km below the level of the surrounding oceanic floor. The greatest ocean depth measured is in the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench, at a depth of 11,034 m (36,201 ft) below sea level. Oceanic lithosphere moves into trenches at a global rate of about 3 km2/yr.

Transform fault A plate boundary where the motion is predominantly horizontal

A transform fault or transform boundary is a plate boundary where the motion is predominantly horizontal. It ends abruptly and is connected to another transform, a spreading ridge, or a subduction zone.

Convergent boundary Region of active deformation between colliding lithospheric plates

Convergent boundaries are areas on Earth where two or more lithospheric plates collide. One plate eventually slides beneath the other causing a process known as subduction. The subduction zone can be defined by a plane where many earthquakes occur, called the Benioff Zone. These collisions happen on scales of millions to tens of millions of years and can lead to volcanism, earthquakes, orogenesis, destruction of lithosphere, and deformation. Convergent boundaries occur between oceanic-oceanic lithosphere, oceanic-continental lithosphere, and continental-continental lithosphere. The geologic features related to convergent boundaries vary depending on crust types.

Mantle plume An upwelling of abnormally hot rock within the Earths mantle

A mantle plume is a proposed mechanism of convection of abnormally hot rock within the Earth's mantle. Because the plume head partly melts on reaching shallow depths, a plume is often invoked as the cause of volcanic hotspots, such as Hawaii or Iceland, and large igneous provinces such as the Deccan and Siberian traps. Some such volcanic regions lie far from tectonic plate boundaries, while others represent unusually large-volume volcanism near plate boundaries or in large igneous provinces.

Island arc arc-shaped archipelago

Island arcs are long chains of active volcanoes with intense seismic activity found along convergent tectonic plate boundaries. Most island arcs originate on oceanic crust and have resulted from the descent of the lithosphere into the mantle along the subduction zone. They are the principal way by which continental growth is achieved.

Farallon Plate An ancient oceanic plate that has mostly subducted under the west coast of the North American Plate

The Farallon Plate was an ancient oceanic plate that began subducting under the west coast of the North American Plate—then located in modern Utah—as Pangaea broke apart during the Jurassic period. It is named for the Farallon Islands, which are located just west of San Francisco, California.

Explorer Plate An oceanic tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada

The Explorer Plate is an oceanic tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada and is partially subducted under the North American Plate. Along with the Juan De Fuca Plate and Gorda Plate, the Explorer Plate is a remnant of the ancient Farallon Plate which has been subducted under the North American Plate. The Explorer Plate separated from the Juan De Fuca Plate roughly 4 million years ago. In its smoother, southern half, the average depth of the Explorer plate is roughly 2,400 metres (7,900 ft) and rises up in its northern half to a highly variable basin between 1,400 metres (4,600 ft) and 2,200 metres (7,200 ft) in depth.

Ridge push or sliding plate force is a proposed driving force for plate motion in plate tectonics that occurs at mid-ocean ridges as the result of the rigid lithosphere sliding down the hot, raised asthenosphere below mid-ocean ridges. Although it is called ridge push, the term is somewhat misleading; it is actually a body force that acts throughout an ocean plate, not just at the ridge, as a result of gravitational pull. The name comes from earlier models of plate tectonics in which ridge push was primarily ascribed to upwelling magma at mid-ocean ridges pushing or wedging the plates apart.

Mid-ocean ridge An underwater mountain system formed by plate tectonic spreading

A mid-ocean ridge (MOR) is an underwater mountain system formed by plate tectonics. It consists of various mountains linked in chains, typically having a valley known as a rift running along its spine. This type of oceanic mountain ridge is characteristic of what is known as an 'oceanic spreading center', which is responsible for seafloor spreading. The production of new seafloor results from mantle upwelling in response to plate spreading; this isentropic upwelling solid mantle material eventually exceeds the solidus and melts. The buoyant melt rises as magma at a linear weakness in the oceanic crust, and emerges as lava, creating new crust upon cooling. A mid-ocean ridge demarcates the boundary between two tectonic plates, and consequently is termed a divergent plate boundary.

Back-arc basin Submarine features associated with island arcs and subduction zones

Back-arc basins are geologic basins, submarine features associated with island arcs and subduction zones. They are found at some convergent plate boundaries, presently concentrated in the western Pacific Ocean. Most of them result from tensional forces caused by oceanic trench rollback and the collapse of the edge of the continent. The arc crust is under extension or rifting as a result of the sinking of the subducting slab. Back-arc basins were initially a surprising result for plate tectonics theorists, who expected convergent boundaries to be zones of compression, rather than major extension. However, they are now recognized as consistent with this model in explaining how the interior of Earth loses heat.

Mantle convection The slow creeping motion of Earths solid silicate mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat from the interior to the planets surface

Mantle convection is the slow creeping motion of Earth's solid silicate mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat from the interior to the planet's surface.

Back-arc region

The back-arc region is the area behind a volcanic arc. In island volcanic arcs it consists of back-arc basins of oceanic crust with abyssal depths, which may be separated by remnant arcs, similar to island arcs. In continental arcs the back-arc region is part of continental platform, either dry land (subaerial) or forming shallow marine basins.

Crustal recycling

Crustal recycling is a tectonic process by which surface material from the lithosphere is recycled into the mantle by subduction erosion or delamination. The subducting slabs carry volatile compounds and water into the mantle, as well as crustal material with an isotopic signature different from that of primitive mantle. Identification of this crustal signature in mantle-derived rocks is proof of crustal recycling.

Large low-shear-velocity provinces

Large low-shear-velocity provinces, LLSVPs, also called LLVPs or superplumes, are characteristic structures of parts of the lowermost mantle of the Earth. These provinces are characterized by slow shear wave velocities and were discovered by seismic tomography of the deep Earth. There are two main provinces: the African LLSVP and the Pacific LLSVP. Both extend laterally for thousands of kilometers and possibly up to 1000 km vertically from the core-mantle boundary. The Pacific LLSVP has specific dimensions of 3000 km across and 300 m higher than the surrounding ocean-floor, and is situated over four hotspots that suggest multiple mantle plumes underneath. These zones represent around 8% of the volume of the mantle. Other names for LLSVPs include superwells, thermo-chemical piles, or hidden reservoirs. Some of these names, however, are more interpretive of their geodynamical or geochemical effects, while many questions remain about their nature.

A continental arc is a type of volcanic arc occurring as an "arc-shape" topographic high region along a continental margin. The continental arc is formed at an active continental margin where two tectonic plates meet, and where one plate has continental crust and the other oceanic crust, and a subduction zone develops. The magmatism and petrogenesis of continental crust are complicated: in essence, continental arcs reflect a mixture of oceanic crust materials, mantle wedge and continental crust materials.

References

  1. Conrad, C. P. "How Mantle Slabs Drive Plate Motions". Archived from the original on June 13, 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  2. Conrad, C. P.; Lithgow-Bertelloni, C (2002). "How Mantle Slabs Drive Plate Tectonics". Science. 298 (5591): 207–09. Bibcode:2002Sci...298..207C. doi:10.1126/science.1074161. PMID   12364804.
  3. Mitrovica, J. X.; Beaumont, C.; Jarvis, G. T. (1989). "Tilting of continental interiors by the dynamical effects of subduction". Tectonics. 8 (5): 1079. Bibcode:1989Tecto...8.1079M. doi:10.1029/TC008i005p01079.
  4. Shephard, G. E.; Müller, R. D.; Liu, L.; Gurnis, M. (2010). "Miocene drainage reversal of the Amazon River driven by plate–mantle interaction". Nature Geoscience. 3 (12): 870–75. Bibcode:2010NatGe...3..870S. doi:10.1038/ngeo1017.
  5. "Atlas of the Underworld | Van der Meer, D.G., van Hinsbergen, D.J.J., and Spakman, W., 2017, Atlas of the Underworld: slab remnants in the mantle, their sinking history, and a new outlook on lower mantle viscosity, Tectonophysics". www.atlas-of-the-underworld.org. Retrieved 2017-12-02.