Articles | Volume 2, issue 1
Solid Earth, 2, 35–51, 2011
Solid Earth, 2, 35–51, 2011

Method article 24 May 2011

Method article | 24 May 2011

3-D thermo-mechanical laboratory modeling of plate-tectonics: modeling scheme, technique and first experiments

D. Boutelier1,2 and O. Oncken1 D. Boutelier and O. Oncken
  • 1Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
  • 2School of Geosciences, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia

Abstract. We present an experimental apparatus for 3-D thermo-mechanical analogue modeling of plate tectonic processes such as oceanic and continental subductions, arc-continent or continental collisions. The model lithosphere, made of temperature-sensitive elasto-plastic analogue materials with strain softening, is submitted to a constant temperature gradient causing a strength reduction with depth in each layer. The surface temperature is imposed using infrared emitters, which allows maintaining an unobstructed view of the model surface and the use of a high resolution optical strain monitoring technique (Particle Imaging Velocimetry). Subduction experiments illustrate how the stress conditions on the interplate zone can be estimated using a force sensor attached to the back of the upper plate and adjusted via the density and strength of the subducting lithosphere or the lubrication of the plate boundary. The first experimental results reveal the potential of the experimental set-up to investigate the three-dimensional solid-mechanics interactions of lithospheric plates in multiple natural situations.