Articles | Volume 8, issue 2
Solid Earth, 8, 339–350, 2017
Solid Earth, 8, 339–350, 2017
Research article
24 Mar 2017
Research article | 24 Mar 2017

The subduction dichotomy of strong plates and weak slabs

Robert I. Petersen et al.

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Cited articles

Becker, T. W., Faccenna, C., O'Connell, R. J., and Giardini, D.: The development of slabs in the upper mantle: Insights from numerical and laboratory experiments, J. Geophys. Res., 104, 15207,, 1999.
Bellahsen, N.: Dynamics of subduction and plate motion in laboratory experiments: Insights into the “plate tectonics” behavior of the Earth, J. Geophys. Res., 110, B10401,, 2005.
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Bercovici, D., Schubert, G., and Ricard, Y.: Abrupt tectonics and rapid slab detachment with grain damage, P. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 112, 1287–1291,, 2015.
Breuer, D. and Spohn, T.: Possible flush instability in mantle convection at the Archaean-Proterozoic transition, Nature, 378, 608–610,, 1995.
Short summary
In this study we propose a dichotomy in the strength profile of tectonic plates. This apparent dichotomy suggests that plates at the Earth's surface are significantly stronger, by orders of magnitude, than the subducted slabs in the Earth's interior. Strong plates promote single-sided, Earth-like subduction. Once subducted, strong slabs transmit dynamic stresses and disrupt subduction. Slabs which are weakened do not disrupt subduction and furthermore exhibit a variety of observed morphologies.