EGU24-14482, updated on 09 Mar 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

An alternative mode of slab deformation in the mantle transition zone: segmentation and stacking

Keqing Li1, Jiashun Hu1, Yida Li2, Hao Zhou1, and HaiJiang Zhang3
Keqing Li et al.
  • 1Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, China (
  • 2Seismological Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, California, USA
  • 3Laboratory of Seismology and Physics of Earth’s Interior, School of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, China

The contradiction of high subducting plate speed (ranging from 4-9 cm/yr on Earth’s surface) and slow slab sinking rate (about 1-2 cm/yr in lower mantle) is intimately related to the subduction dichotomy of strong plates and weak slabs. The significant difference in the two rates indicates significant slab deformation in the mantle transition zone. However, the way and mechanism by which this deformation occurs have not been fully understood. Slab buckling has been frequently invoked to explain the deformation, but it is insufficient to accommodate the large difference in slab sinking rates across the mantle transition zone, even if an extremely low yield stress  100 MPa is applied.

Using 2-D numerical models that incorporate composite viscosity and grain size evolution, we propose a new mode of slab evolution, slab segmentation and stacking, to accommodate the differential slab sinking rates between the upper and lower mantle. The segmentation of slab is facilitated by the serpentinization of the normal faults at the outer rise and the grain size evolution, confirming the results of earlier studies (Gerya et al., 2020). More interestingly, we find periodic tearing and stacking of slab when it encounters the high viscosity lower mantle. Stacked slabs slowly sink in the lower mantle, while periodic slab tearing hinders stress transimission upward, allowing shallow plates to subduct at a higher rate. This model not only explains the high plate subduction rate observed at present day, but also the thickening of slab in the lower mantle. In addition, it provides a mechanism for slab to tear in the mantle transition zone, and thus may explain the enigmatic slab geometry beneath the Izu-Bonin-Mariana subduction zone.

How to cite: Li, K., Hu, J., Li, Y., Zhou, H., and Zhang, H.: An alternative mode of slab deformation in the mantle transition zone: segmentation and stacking, EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-14482,, 2024.