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 high gravitational potential energy into the mantle.Regions where this process occurs are known as subduction zones. Rates of subduction are typically measured in centimeters per year, with the average rate of convergence being approximately two to eight centimeters per year along most plate boundaries.
Plates include both oceanic crust and continental crust. Stable subduction zones involve the oceanic lithosphere of one plate sliding beneath the continental or oceanic lithosphere of another plate due to the higher density of the oceanic lithosphere. This means that the subducted lithosphere is always oceanic while the overriding lithosphere may or may not be oceanic. Subduction zones are sites that usually have a high rate of volcanism and earthquakes. Furthermore, subduction zones develop belts of deformation and metamorphism in the subducting crust, whose exhumation is part of orogeny and also leads to mountain building in addition to collisional thickening.
Subduction zones are sites of gravitational sinking of Earth's lithosphere (the crust plus the top non-convecting portion of the upper mantle). kilometers, the basalt of the oceanic crust is converted to a metamorphic rock called eclogite. At that point, the density of the oceanic crust increases and provides additional negative buoyancy (downwards force). It is at subduction zones that Earth's lithosphere, oceanic crust and continental crust, sedimentary layers and some trapped water are recycled into the deep mantle.Subduction zones exist at convergent plate boundaries where one plate of oceanic lithosphere converges with another plate. The descending slab, the subducting plate, is over-ridden by the leading edge of the other plate. The slab sinks at an angle of approximately twenty-five to forty-five degrees to Earth's surface. This sinking is driven by the temperature difference between the subducting oceanic lithosphere and the surrounding mantle asthenosphere, as the colder oceanic lithosphere has, on average, a greater density. At a depth of greater than 60
Earth is so far the only planet where subduction is known to occur. Subduction is the driving force behind plate tectonics, and without it, plate tectonics could not occur.
Oceanic subduction zones dive down into the mantle beneath 55,000 km (34,000 mi) of convergent plate margins (Lallemand, 1999), almost equal to the cumulative 60,000 km (37,000 mi) of mid-ocean ridges. Subduction zones burrow deeply but are imperfectly camouflaged, and geophysics and geochemistry can be used to study them. Not surprisingly, the shallowest portions of subduction zones are known best. Subduction zones are strongly asymmetric for the first several hundred kilometers of their descent. They start to go down at oceanic trenches. Their descents are marked by inclined zones of earthquakes that dip away from the trench beneath the volcanoes and extend down to the 660-kilometer discontinuity. Subduction zones are defined by the inclined array of earthquakes known as the Wadati–Benioff zone after the two scientists who first identified this distinctive aspect. Subduction zone earthquakes occur at greater depths (up to 600 km (370 mi)) than elsewhere on Earth (typically less than 20 km (12 mi) depth); such deep earthquakes may be driven by deep phase transformations, thermal runaway, or dehydration embrittlement.
The subducting basalt and sediment are normally rich in hydrous minerals and clays. Additionally, large quantities of water are introduced into cracks and fractures created as the subducting slab bends downward.During the transition from basalt to eclogite, these hydrous materials break down, producing copious quantities of water, which at such great pressure and temperature exists as a supercritical fluid. The supercritical water, which is hot and more buoyant than the surrounding rock, rises into the overlying mantle where it lowers the pressure in (and thus the melting temperature of) the mantle rock to the point of actual melting, generating magma. The magmas, in turn, rise (and become labeled diapirs) because they are less dense than the rocks of the mantle. The mantle-derived magmas (which are basaltic in composition) can continue to rise, ultimately to Earth's surface, resulting in a volcanic eruption. The chemical composition of the erupting lava depends upon the degree to which the mantle-derived basalt interacts with (melts) Earth's crust and/or undergoes fractional crystallization.
Above subduction zones, volcanoes exist in long chains called volcanic arcs. Volcanoes that exist along arcs tend to produce dangerous eruptions because they are rich in water (from the slab and sediments) and tend to be extremely explosive. Krakatoa, Nevado del Ruiz, and Mount Vesuvius are all examples of arc volcanoes. Arcs are also known to be associated with precious metals such as gold, silver and copper believed to be carried by water and concentrated in and around their host volcanoes in rock called "ore".
Although the process of subduction as it occurs today is fairly well understood, its origin remains a matter of discussion and continuing study. Subduction initiation can occur spontaneously if denser oceanic lithosphere is able to founder and sink beneath adjacent oceanic or continental lithosphere; alternatively, existing plate motions can induce new subduction zones by forcing oceanic lithosphere to rupture and sink into the asthenosphere.Both models can eventually yield self-sustaining subduction zones, as oceanic crust is metamorphosed at great depth and becomes denser than the surrounding mantle rocks. Results from numerical models generally favor induced subduction initiation for most modern subduction zones, which is supported by geologic studies, but other analogue modeling shows the possibility of spontaneous subduction from inherent density differences between two plates at passive margins, and observations from the Izu-Bonin-Mariana subduction system are compatible with spontaneous subduction nucleation. Furthermore, subduction is likely to have spontaneously initiated at some point in Earth's history, as induced subduction nucleation requires existing plate motions, though an unorthodox proposal by A. Yin suggests that meteorite impacts may have contributed to subduction initiation on early Earth.
Geophysicist Don L. Anderson has hypothesized that plate tectonics could not happen without the calcium carbonate laid down by bioforms at the edges of subduction zones. The massive weight of these sediments could be softening the underlying rocks, making them pliable enough to plunge.
Modern-style subduction is characterized by low geothermal gradients and the associated formation of high-pressure low temperature rocks such as eclogite and blueschist. Ga ago in the Paleoproterozoic Era. Nevertheless, the eclogite itself was produced by oceanic subduction during the assembly of supercontinents at about 1.9–2.0 Ga.Likewise, rock assemblages called ophiolites, associated to modern-style subduction, also indicate such conditions. Eclogite xenoliths found in the North China Craton provide evidence that modern-style subduction occurred at least as early as 1.8
Blueschist is a rock typical for present-day subduction settings. Absence of blueschist older than Neoproterozoic reflect more magnesium-rich compositions of Earth's oceanic crust during that period.These more magnesium-rich rocks metamorphose into greenschist at conditions when modern oceanic crust rocks metamorphose into blueschist. The ancient magnesium-rich rocks means that Earth's mantle was once hotter, but not that subduction conditions were hotter. Previously, lack of pre-Neoproterozoic blueschist was thought to indicate a different type of subduction. Both lines of evidence refute previous conceptions of modern-style subduction having been initiated in the Neoproterozoic Era 1.0 Ga ago.
Volcanoes that occur above subduction zones, such as Mount St. Helens, Mount Etna and Mount Fuji, lie at approximately one hundred kilometers from the trench in arcuate chains, hence the term volcanic arc. Two kinds of arcs are generally observed on Earth: island arcs that form on oceanic lithosphere (for example, the Mariana and the Tonga island arcs), and continental arcs such as the Cascade Volcanic Arc, that form along the coast of continents. Island arcs are produced by the subduction of oceanic lithosphere beneath another oceanic lithosphere (ocean-ocean subduction) while continental arcs formed during subduction of oceanic lithosphere beneath a continental lithosphere (ocean-continent subduction). An example of a volcanic arc having both island and continental arc sections is found behind the Aleutian Trench subduction zone in Alaska.
The arc magmatism occurs one hundred to two hundred kilometers from the trench and approximately one hundred kilometers above the subducting slab. This depth of arc magma generation is the consequence of the interaction between hydrous fluids, released from the subducting slab, and the arc mantle wedge that is hot enough to melt with the addition of water. It has also been suggested that the mixing of fluids from a subducted tectonic plate and melted sediment is already occurring at the top of the slab before any mixing with the mantle takes place.
Arcs produce about 25% of the total volume of magma produced each year on Earth (approximately thirty to thirty-five cubic kilometers), much less than the volume produced at mid-ocean ridges, and they contribute to the formation of new continental crust. Arc volcanism has the greatest impact on humans because many arc volcanoes lie above sea level and erupt violently. Aerosols injected into the stratosphere during violent eruptions can cause rapid cooling of Earth's climate and affect air travel.
The strains caused by plate convergence in subduction zones cause at least three types of earthquakes. Earthquakes mainly propagate in the cold subducting slab and define the Wadati–Benioff zone. Seismicity shows that the slab can be tracked down to the upper mantle/lower mantle boundary (approximately six hundred kilometer depth).
Nine of the ten largest earthquakes of the last 100 years were subduction zone events, which included the 1960 Great Chilean earthquake, which, at M 9.5, was the largest earthquake ever recorded; the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami; and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The subduction of cold oceanic crust into the mantle depresses the local geothermal gradient and causes a larger portion of Earth to deform in a more brittle fashion than it would in a normal geothermal gradient setting. Because earthquakes can occur only when a rock is deforming in a brittle fashion, subduction zones can cause large earthquakes. If such a quake causes rapid deformation of the sea floor, there is potential for tsunamis, such as the earthquake caused by subduction of the Indo-Australian Plate under the Euro-Asian Plate on December 26, 2004 that devastated the areas around the Indian Ocean. Small tremors which cause small, nondamaging tsunamis, also occur frequently.
A study published in 2016 suggested a new parameter to determine a subduction zone's ability to generate mega-earthquakes.By examining subduction zone geometry and comparing the degree of curvature of the subducting plates in great historical earthquakes such as the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, it was determined that the magnitude of earthquakes in subduction zones is inversely proportional to the degree of the fault's curvature, meaning that "the flatter the contact between the two plates, the more likely it is that mega-earthquakes will occur."
Outer rise earthquakes occur when normal faults oceanward of the subduction zone are activated by flexure of the plate as it bends into the subduction zone.The 2009 Samoa earthquake is an example of this type of event. Displacement of the sea floor caused by this event generated a six-meter tsunami in nearby Samoa.
Anomalously deep events are a characteristic of subduction zones, which produce the deepest quakes on the planet. Earthquakes are generally restricted to the shallow, brittle parts of the crust, generally at depths of less than twenty kilometers. However, in subduction zones, quakes occur at depths as great as 700 km (430 mi). These quakes define inclined zones of seismicity known as Wadati–Benioff zones which trace the descending lithosphere.
Seismic tomography has helped detect subducted lithosphere, slabs, deep in the mantle where there are no earthquakes. About one hundred slabs have been described in terms of depth and their timing and location of subduction. 410 km (250 mi) depth and 670 km (420 mi), are disrupted by the descent of cold slabs in deep subduction zones. Some subducted slabs seem to have difficulty penetrating the major discontinuity that marks the boundary between upper mantle and lower mantle at a depth of about 670 kilometers. Other subducted oceanic plates have sunk all the way to the core-mantle boundary at 2890 km depth. Generally slabs decelerate during their descent into the mantle, from typically several cm/yr (up to ~10 cm/yr in some cases) at the subduction zone and in the uppermost mantle, to ~1 cm/yr in the lower mantle . This leads to either folding or stacking of slabs at those depths, visible as thickened slabs in Seismic tomography. Below ~1700 km, there might be a limited acceleration of slabs due to lower viscosity as a result of inferred mineral phase changes until they approach and finally stall at the core-mantle boundary . Here the slabs are heated up by the ambient heat and are not detected anymore ~300 Myr after subduction .The great seismic discontinuities in the mantle, at
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Orogeny is the process of mountain building. Subducting plates can lead to orogeny by bringing oceanic islands, oceanic plateaus, and sediments to convergent margins. The material often does not subduct with the rest of the plate but instead is accreted (scraped off) to the continent, resulting in exotic terranes. The collision of this oceanic material causes crustal thickening and mountain-building. The accreted material is often referred to as an accretionary wedge, or prism. These accretionary wedges can be identified by ophiolites (uplifted ocean crust consisting of sediments, pillow basalts, sheeted dykes, gabbro, and peridotite).
Subduction may also cause orogeny without bringing in oceanic material that collides with the overriding continent. When the subducting plate subducts at a shallow angle underneath a continent (something called "flat-slab subduction"), the subducting plate may have enough traction on the bottom of the continental plate to cause the upper plate to contract leading to folding, faulting, crustal thickening and mountain building. Flat-slab subduction causes mountain building and volcanism moving into the continent, away from the trench, and has been described in North America (i.e. Laramide orogeny), South America and East Asia.
The processes described above allow subduction to continue while mountain building happens progressively, which is in contrast to continent-continent collision orogeny, which often leads to the termination of subduction.
Subduction typically occurs at a moderately steep angle right at the point of the convergent plate boundary. However, anomalous shallower angles of subduction are known to exist as well some that are extremely steep.
Subduction zones are important for several reasons:
Subduction zones have also been considered as possible disposal sites for nuclear waste in which the action of subduction itself would carry the material into the planetary mantle, safely away from any possible influence on humanity or the surface environment. However, that method of disposal is currently banned by international agreement.Furthermore, plate subduction zones are associated with very large megathrust earthquakes, making the effects on using any specific site for disposal unpredictable and possibly adverse to the safety of longterm disposal.
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 3.3 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 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.
Obduction is the overthrusting of continental crust by oceanic crust or mantle rocks at a convergent plate boundary, such as closing of an ocean or a mountain building episode. This process is uncommon because the denser oceanic lithosphere usually subducts underneath the less dense continental plate.
An ophiolite is a section of the Earth's oceanic crust and the underlying upper mantle that has been uplifted and exposed above sea level and often emplaced onto continental crustal rocks.
A convergent boundary is an area 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.
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.
Oceanic crust is the uppermost layer of the oceanic portion of a tectonic plate. It is composed of the upper oceanic crust, with pillow lavas and a dike complex, and the lower oceanic crust, composed of troctolite, gabbro and ultramafic cumulates. The crust overlies the solidified and uppermost layer of the mantle. The crust and the solid mantle layer together constitute oceanic lithosphere.
A forearc is the region between an oceanic trench and the associated volcanic arc. Forearc regions are found at convergent margins, and include any accretionary wedge and forearc basin that may be present. Due to tectonic stresses as one tectonic plate rides over another, forearc regions are sources for great thrust earthquakes.
A volcanic arc is a chain of volcanoes formed above a subducting plate, positioned in an arc shape as seen from above. Offshore volcanoes form islands, resulting in a volcanic island arc. Generally, volcanic arcs result from the subduction of an oceanic tectonic plate under another tectonic plate, and often parallel an oceanic trench. The oceanic plate is saturated with water, and volatiles such as water drastically lower the melting point of the mantle. As the oceanic plate is subducted, it is subjected to greater and greater pressures with increasing depth. This pressure squeezes water out of the plate and introduces it to the mantle. Here the mantle melts and forms magma at depth under the overriding plate. The magma ascends to form an arc of volcanoes parallel to the subduction zone.
A Wadati–Benioff zone is a planar zone of seismicity corresponding with the down-going slab in a subduction zone. Differential motion along the zone produces numerous earthquakes, the foci of which may be as deep as about 670 km (420 mi). The term was named for the two seismologists, Hugo Benioff of the California Institute of Technology and Kiyoo Wadati of the Japan Meteorological Agency, who independently discovered the zones.
Continental collision is a phenomenon of the plate tectonics of Earth that occurs at convergent boundaries. Continental collision is a variation on the fundamental process of subduction, whereby the subduction zone is destroyed, mountains produced, and two continents sutured together. Continental collision is only known to occur on Earth.
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.
The Izu–Bonin–Mariana (IBM) arc system is a tectonic-plate convergent boundary. The IBM arc system extends over 2800 km south from Tokyo, Japan, to beyond Guam, and includes the Izu Islands, Bonin Islands, and Mariana Islands; much more of the IBM arc system is submerged below sealevel. The IBM arc system lies along the eastern margin of the Philippine Sea Plate in the Western Pacific Ocean. It is the site of the deepest gash in Earth's solid surface, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.
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.
Ultra-high-pressure metamorphism refers to metamorphic processes at pressures high enough to stabilize coesite, the high-pressure polymorph of SiO2. It is important because the processes that form and exhume ultra-high-pressure (UHP) metamorphic rocks may strongly affect plate tectonics, the composition and evolution of Earth's crust. The discovery of UHP metamorphic rocks in 1984 revolutionized our understanding of plate tectonics. Prior to 1984 there was little suspicion that continental rocks could reach such high pressures.
A subduction zone is a region of the earth's crust where one tectonic plate moves under another tectonic plate; oceanic crust gets recycled back into the mantle and continental crust gets created by the formation of arc magmas. Arc magmas account for more than 20% of terrestrially produced magmas and are produced by the dehydration of minerals within the subducting slab as it descends into the mantle and are accreted onto the base of the overriding continental plate. Subduction zones host a unique variety of rock types created by the high-pressure, low-temperature conditions a subducting slab encounters during its descent. The metamorphic conditions the slab passes through in this process creates and destroys water bearing (hydrous) mineral phases, releasing water into the mantle. This water lowers the melting point of mantle rock, initiating melting. Understanding the timing and conditions in which these dehydration reactions occur, is key to interpreting mantle melting, volcanic arc magmatism, and the formation of continental crust.
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 along the line of plate convergence, 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.
Flat slab subduction is characterized by a low subduction angle beyond the seismogenic layer and a resumption of normal subduction far from the trench. A slab refers to the subducting lower plate. Although, some would characterize flat slab subduction as any shallowly dipping lower plate as in western Mexico. Flat slab subduction is associated with the pinching out of the asthenosphere, an inland migration of arc magmatism, and an eventual cessation of arc magmatism. The coupling of the flat slab to the upper plate is thought to change the style of deformation occurring on the upper plate's surface and form basement-cored uplifts like the Rocky Mountains. The flat slab also may hydrate the lower continental lithosphere and be involved in the formation of economically important ore deposits. During the subduction, a flat slab itself may be deformed, or buckling, causing sedimentary hiatus in marine sediments on the slab. The failure of a flat slab is associated with ignimbritic volcanism and the reverse migration of arc volcanism. Multiple working hypotheses about the cause of flat slabs are subduction of thick, buoyant oceanic crust (15–20 km) and trench rollback accompanying a rapidly overriding upper plate and enhanced trench suction. The west coast of South America has two of the largest flat slab subduction zones. Flat slab subduction is occurring at 10% of subduction zones.
Divergent double subduction is a special type of subduction system where two parallel subduction zones with different directions are developed on the same oceanic plate. In conventional plate tectonics theory, an oceanic plate subducts under another plate and new oceanic crust is generated somewhere else, commonly along the other side of the same plates However, in divergent double subduction, the oceanic plate subducts on two sides. This results in the closure of ocean and arc-arc collision. This concept was first proposed and applied to the Lachlan fold belt in southern Australia. Since then, geologists have applied this model to other regions such as the Solonker Suture Zone of the Central Asian Orogenic belt, the Jiangnan Orogen, the Lhasa–Qiangtang collision zone and the Baker terrane boundary. Active examples of this system are 1) the Molucca Sea Collision Zone in Indonesia, in which the Molucca Sea plate subducts below the Eurasian plate and the Philippine Sea plate on two sides, and 2) the Adria microplate in the Central Mediterranean, subducting both on its western side and on its eastern side . Note that the term "divergent" is used to describe one oceanic plate subducting in different directions on two opposite sides. It should not be confused with use of the same term in 'divergent plate boundary' which refers to a spreading center that separates two plates moving away from each other.
The Aleutian subduction zone is a ~2500 mile-long convergence boundary between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate, that extends from the Alaska Range to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Here, the Pacific Plate is being subducted underneath the North American plate and the rate of subduction changes from west to east from 7.5 cm/yr to 5.1 cm/yr. The Aleutian subduction zone includes two prominent features, the Aleutian arc and the Aleutian trench. The island arc was created via volcanic eruptions from dehydration of the subducting slab at ~100 km depth. The trench is a narrow and deep morphology that occurs between the two converging plates as the subucting slab dives beneath the overriding plate.
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