26 Jan 2022
26 Jan 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal SE.

A tectonic-rules based mantle reference frame since 1 billion years ago – implications for supercontinent cycles and plate-mantle system evolution

R. Dietmar Müller1, John Cannon1, Michael Tetley2, Simon E. Williams3,1, Xianzhi Cao5, Nicolas Flament4, Ömer F. Bodur4, Sabin Zahirovic1, and Andrew Merdith6 R. Dietmar Müller et al.
  • 1EarthByte Group, School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
  • 2University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas, 78758, United States
  • 3Department of Geology, Northwest University, Xi’an, 710069, China
  • 4GeoQuEST Research Centre, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Northfields Avenue, NSW 2522, Australia
  • 5Frontiers Science Center for Deep Ocean Multispheres and Earth System; Key Lab of Submarine Geosciences and Prospecting Techniques, MOE and College of Marine Geosciences, Ocean University of China, Qingdao 266100, China
  • 6School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

Abstract. Understanding the long-term evolution of Earth's plate-mantle system is reliant on absolute plate motion models in a mantle reference frame, but such models are both difficult to construct and controversial. We present a tectonic rules-based optimisation approach to construct a plate motion model in a mantle reference frame covering the last billion years and use it as a surface boundary condition for mantle flow models. Our plate motion model results in lithospheric net rotation consistently below 0.25°/Myr, in agreement with mantle flow models, while trench motions are confined to a relatively narrow range of −2/+2 cm/yr since 320 Ma, during Pangea stability and dispersal. In contrast, the period from 600 Ma to 320 Ma, nicknamed here the "zippy tricentenary", displays twice the trench motion scatter compared to more recent times, reflecting a predominance of short and highly mobile subduction zones. Our model supports an orthoversion evolution from Rodinia to Pangea with Pangea offset approximately 90° eastwards relative to Rodinia—this is the opposite sense of motion compared to a previous orthoversion hypothesis based on paleomagnetic data. In our coupled plate-mantle model a broad network of basal mantle ridges forms between 1000 and 600 Ma, reflecting widely distributed subduction zones. Between 600 and 500 Ma a short-lived degree-2 basal mantle structure forms in response to a band of subduction zones confined to low-latitudes, generating extensive antipodal lower mantle upwellings centred at the poles. Subsequently the northern basal structure migrates southward and morphs into a Pacific-centred upwelling while the southern structure is dissected by subducting slabs and disintegrates into a network of ridges between 500 and 400 Ma. From 400 to 200 Ma, a stable Pacific-centred degree-1 convective planform emerges, lacking an antipodal counterpart due to the closure of the Iapetus and Rheic oceans between Laurussia and Gondwana as well as coeval subduction between Baltica and Laurentia and around Siberia, populating the mantle with slabs until 320 Ma when Pangea is assembled. A basal degree-2 structure forms subsequent to Pangea breakup, after the influence of previously subducted slabs in the African hemisphere on the lowermost mantle has faded away. This succession of mantle states is distinct from previously proposed mantle convection models. This Solid Earth Evolution Model for the last 1000 million years (SEEM1000) forms the foundation for a multitude of spatio-temporal data analysis approaches.

R. Dietmar Müller et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on se-2021-154', Scott King, 24 Feb 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on se-2021-154', D. Rhodri Davies, 07 Mar 2022

R. Dietmar Müller et al.

Data sets

Plate-mantle model files R. Dietmar Müller, John Cannon, Michael Tetley, Simon E. Williams, Xianzhi Cao, Nicolas Flament, Omer Bodur, Sabin Zahirovic, and Andrew Merdith

Model code and software

CitcomS Bower, D. J., M. Gurnis, and N. Flament

Video supplement

Supplementary animations R. Dietmar Müller, John Cannon, Michael Tetley, Simon E. Williams, Xianzhi Cao, Nicolas Flament, Omer Bodur, Sabin Zahirovic, and Andrew Merdith

R. Dietmar Müller et al.


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Short summary
We have built a community model for the evolution of the Earth's plate-mantle system. Created with open-source software and an open-access plate model, it covers the last billion years, including the formation, breakup and dispersal of two supercontinents, and the creation and destruction of numerous ocean basins. The model allows us to ‘see’ into the Earth in 4D, and helps us unravel the connections between surface tectonics and the "beating heart" of the Earth, its convecting mantle.