Science China Earth Sciences

, Volume 61, Issue 12, pp 1761–1774 | Cite as

Progress in numerical modeling of subducting plate dynamics

  • Wei LengEmail author
  • Liangzhi Huang
Progress Forum on Frontiers of Science & Technology: Subduction zones


The core concerns of plate tectonics theory are the dynamics of subducting plates, which can be studied by integrating multidisciplinary fields such as seismology, mineral physics, rock geochemistry, geological formation studies, sedimentology, and numerical simulations. By establishing a theoretical model and solving it with numerical methods, one can replicate the dynamic effects of a subducting plate, quantifying its evolution and the surface response. Simulations can also explain the observations and experimental results of other disciplines. Therefore, numerical models are among the most important tools for studying the dynamics of subducting plates. This paper provides a review on recent advances in the numerical modeling of subducting plate dynamics. It covers various aspects, namely, the origin of plate tectonics, the initiation process and thermal structure of subducting slab, and the main subduction slab dynamics in the upper mantle, mantle transition zone, and lower mantle. The results of numerical models are based on the theoretical equations of mass, momentum, and energy conservation. To better understand the dynamic progress of subducting plates, the simulation results must be verified in comparisons with the results from natural observations by geology, geophysics and geochemistry. With the substantial increase in computing power and continuous improvement of simulation methods, numerical models will become a more accurate and efficient means of studying the frontier issues of Earth sciences, including subducting plate dynamics.


Subducting plate Dynamics Numerical simulation 



Thanks to Yongfei Zheng for his help in writing this article. The opinions of Zhonghai Li and other three anonymous review experts have greatly contributed to the improvement of this article. This work was supported by the National Key Basic Research and Development Program Project (Grant No. 2015CB856106) and the Sichuan-Yunnan National Earthquake Monitoring and Forecasting Experimental Site Project (Grant No. 2017CESE0102).


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© Science in China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth and Space SciencesUniversity of Science and Technology of ChinaHefeiChina
  2. 2.National Geophysical Observatory at MengchengHefeiChina

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