Skip to main content

Subduction tectonics vs. Plume tectonics—Discussion on driving forces for plate motion

Abstract

Plate tectonics describes the horizontal motions of lithospheric plates, the Earth’s outer shell, and interactions among them across the Earth’s surface. Since the establishment of the theory of plate tectonics about half a century ago, considerable debates have remained regarding the driving forces for plate motion. The early “Bottom up” view, i.e., the converting mantle-driven mechanism, states that mantle plumes originating from the core-mantle boundary act at the base of plates, accelerating continental breakup and driving plate motion. Toward the present, however, the “Top down” idea is more widely accepted, according to which the negative buoyancy of oceanic plates is the dominant driving force for plate motion, and the subducting slabs control surface tectonics and mantle convection. In this regard, plate tectonics is also known as subduction tectonics. “Top down”tectonics has received wide supports from numerous geological and geophysical observations. On the other hand, recent studies indicate that the acceleration/deceleration of individual plates over the million-year timescale may reflect the effects of mantle plumes. It is also suggested that surface uplift and subsidence within stable cratonic areas are correlated with plume-related magmatic activities over the hundred-million-year timescale. On the global scale, the cyclical supercontinent assembly and breakup seem to be coupled with superplume activities during the past two billion years. These correlations over various spatial and temporal scales indicate the close relationship and intensive interactions between plate tectonics and plume tectonics throughout the history of the Earth and the considerable influence of plumes on plate motion. Indeed, we can acquire a comprehensive understanding of the driving forces for plate motion and operation mechanism of the Earth’s dynamic system only through joint analyses and integrated studies on plate tectonics and plume tectonics.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Anderson D L. 2001. Top-down tectonics. Science, 293: 2016–2018

    Google Scholar 

  • Armitage J J, Collier J S, Minshull T A, Henstock T J. 2011. Thin oceanic crust and flood basalts: India-Seychelles breakup. Geochem Geophys Geosyst, 12: Q0AB07

    Google Scholar 

  • Artemieva I M. 2009. The continental lithosphere: Reconciling thermal, seismic, and petrologic data. Lithos, 109: 23–46

    Google Scholar 

  • Billen M I. 2008. Modeling the dynamics of subducting slabs. Annu Rev Earth Planet Sci, 36: 325–356

    Google Scholar 

  • Braun J. 2010. the many surface expressions of mantle dynamics. Nat Geosci, 3: 825–833

    Google Scholar 

  • Brune S, Williams S E, Müller R D. 2017. Potential links between continental rifting, CO2 degassing and climate change through time. Nat Geosci, 10: 941–946

    Google Scholar 

  • Buiter S J H, Torsvik T H. 2014. A review of Wilson Cycle plate margins: A role for mantle plumes in continental break-up along sutures? Gondwana Res, 26: 627–653

    Google Scholar 

  • Burke K, Dewey J F. 1973. Plume-generated triple junctions: Key indicators in applying plate tectonics to old rocks. J Geol, 81: 406–433

    Google Scholar 

  • Cande S C, Stegman D R. 2011. Indian and African plate motions driven by the push force of the Réunion plume head. Nature, 475: 47–52

    Google Scholar 

  • Chenet A, Quidelleur X, Fluteau F, Courtillot V, Bajpai S. 2007. 40K-40Ar dating of the Main Deccan large igneous province: Further evidence of KTB age and short duration. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 263: 1–15

    Google Scholar 

  • Conrad C P, Hager B H. 1999. The thermal evolution of an Earth with strong subduction zones. Geophys Res Lett, 26: 3041–3044

    Google Scholar 

  • Conrad C P, Lithgow-Bertelloni C. 2002. How mantle slabs drive plate tectonics. Science, 298: 207–209

    Google Scholar 

  • Conrad C P, Lithgow-Bertelloni C. 2004. The temporal evolution of plate driving forces: Importance of “slab suction”versus “slab pull”during the Cenozoic. J Geophys Res, 109: B10407

    Google Scholar 

  • Conrad C P, Lithgow-Bertelloni C. 2006. Influence of continental roots and asthenosphere on plate-mantle coupling. Geophys Res Lett, 33: L05312

    Google Scholar 

  • Courtillot V, Davaille A, Besse J, Stock J. 2003. Three distinct types of hotspots in the Earth’s mantle. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 205: 295–308

    Google Scholar 

  • Courtillot V, Jaupart C, Manighetti I, Tapponnier P, Besse J. 1999. On causal links between flood basalts and continental breakup. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 166: 177–195

    Google Scholar 

  • Dannberg J, Gassmöller R. 2018. Chemical trends in ocean islands explained by plume-slab interaction. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 115: 4351–4356

    Google Scholar 

  • Dodd S C, Mac Niocaill C, Muxworthy A R. 2015. Long duration (>4 Ma) and steady-state volcanic activity in the early Cretaceous Paraná-Etendeka Large Igneous Province: New palaeomagnetic data from Namibia. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 414: 16–29

    Google Scholar 

  • Faccenna C, Becker T W, Conrad C P, Husson L. 2013. Mountain building and mantle dynamics. Tectonics, 32: 80–93

    Google Scholar 

  • Flesch L M, Holt W E, Haines A J, Shen-Tu B. 2000. Dynamics of the Pacific-North American plate boundary in the WeStern United States. Science, 287: 834–836

    Google Scholar 

  • Forsyth D, Uyeda S. 1975. On the relative importance of the driving forces of plate motion. Geophys J Int, 43: 163–200

    Google Scholar 

  • Foulger G R, Natland J H. 2003. Is “Hotspot”volcanism a consequence of plate tectonics? Science, 300: 921–922

    Google Scholar 

  • Frisch W, Blakey R, Meschede M. 2011. Plate Tectonics-Continental Drift and Mountain Building. Heidelberg: Springer. Chapter 1. 5

  • Fukao Y, Obayashi M. 2013. Subducted slabs stagnant above, penetrating through, and trapped below the 660 km discontinuity. J Geophys Res-Solid Earth, 118: 5920–5938

    Google Scholar 

  • Garnero E J, McNamara A K, Shim S H. 2016. Continent-sized anomalous zones with low seismic velocity at the base of Earth’s mantle. Nat Geosci, 9: 481–489

    Google Scholar 

  • Ghosh A, Holt W E. 2012. Plate motions and stresses from global dynamic models. Science, 335: 838–843

    Google Scholar 

  • Goes S, Capitanio F A, Morra G. 2008. Evidence of lower-mantle slab penetration phases in plate motions. Nature, 451: 981–984

    Google Scholar 

  • Gordon R G, Stein S. 1992. Global tectonics and space geodesy. Science, 256: 333–342

    Google Scholar 

  • Guest A, Schubert G, Gable C W. 2003. Stress field in the subducting lithosphere and comparison with deep earthquakes in Tonga. J Geophys Res, 108: 2288

    Google Scholar 

  • Gung Y, Panning M, Romanowicz B. 2003. Global anisotropy and the thickness of continents. Nature, 422: 707–711

    Google Scholar 

  • Hassan R, Müller R D, Gurnis M, Williams S E, Flament N. 2016. A rapid burst in hotspot motion through the interaction of tectonics and deep mantle flow. Nature, 533: 239–242

    Google Scholar 

  • Hess H H. 1962. History of Ocean Basins. In: Engel A E J, James H L, Leonard B F, eds. Petrologic Studies: A Volume in Honor of A. F. Buddington. Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America. 599–620

  • Holmes A. 1931. Radioactivity and earth movements. Trans Geol Soc Glasgow, 18: 559–606

    Google Scholar 

  • Hu J, Liu L, Faccenda M, Zhou Q, Fischer K M, Marshak S, Lundstrom C. 2018. Modification of the Western Gondwana craton by plume-lithosphere interaction. Nat Geosci, 11: 203–210

    Google Scholar 

  • Isacks B, Molnar P. 1969. Mantle earthquake mechanisms and the sinking of the lithosphere. Nature, 223: 1121–1124

    Google Scholar 

  • Isacks B, Oliver J, Sykes L R. 1968. Seismology and the new global tectonics. J Geophys Res, 73: 5855–5899

    Google Scholar 

  • Jarrard R D. 1986. Relations among subduction parameters. Rev Geophys, 24: 217–284

    Google Scholar 

  • Karato S I, Barbot S. 2018. Dynamics of fault motion and the origin of contrasting tectonic style between Earth and Venus. Sci Rep, 8: 11884

    Google Scholar 

  • Kumamoto K M, Thom C A, Wallis D, Hansen L N, Armstrong D E J, Warren J M, Goldsby D L, Wilkinson A J. 2017. Size effects resolve discrepancies in 40 years of work on low-temperature plasticity in olivine. Sci Adv, 3: e1701338

    Google Scholar 

  • Kumar P, Yuan X, Kumar M R, Kind R, Li X, Chadha R K. 2007. The rapid drift of the Indian tectonic plate. Nature, 449: 894–897

    Google Scholar 

  • Lee C T A, Luffi P, Chin E J. 2011. Building and destroying continental mantle. Annu Rev Earth Planet Sci, 39: 59–90

    Google Scholar 

  • Leonard T, Liu L. 2016. The role of a mantle plume in the formation of Yellowstone volcanism. Geophys Res Lett, 43: 1132–1139

    Google Scholar 

  • Li S, Suo Y, Li X, Liu B, Dai L, Wang G, Zhou J, Li Y, Liu Y, Cao X, Somerville I, Mu D, Zhao S, Liu J, Meng F, Zhen L, Zhao L, Zhu J, Yu S, Liu Y, Zhang G. 2018. Microplate tectonics: New insights from micro-blocks in the global oceans, continental margins and deep mantle. Earth-Sci Rev, 185: 1029–1064

    Google Scholar 

  • Li S Z, Zhang G W, Liu B H, et al. 2010. The future of structural geology in the new century: Advances in fields of deep-sea, deep-interior, deep-space and deep-time and related key techniques (in Chinese with English abstract). Earth Sci Front, 17: 27–43

    Google Scholar 

  • Li Z H, Ribe N M. 2012. Dynamics of free subduction from 3-D boundary element modeling. J Geophys Res, 117: B06408

    Google Scholar 

  • Li Z X, Zhong S. 2009. Supercontinent-superplume coupling, true polar wander and plume mobility: Plate dominance in whole-mantle tectonics. Phys Earth Planet Inter, 176: 143–156

    Google Scholar 

  • Li Z X, Mitchell R N, Spencer C J, Ernst R, Pisarevsky S, Kirscher U, Murphy J B. 2019. Decoding Earth’s rhythms: Modulation of supercontinent cycles by longer superocean episodes. Precambrian Res, 323: 1–5

    Google Scholar 

  • Lithgow-Bertelloni C, Richards M A. 1998. The dynamics of Cenozoic and Mesozoic plate motions. Rev Geophys, 36: 27–78

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu L, Hasterok D. 2016. High-resolution lithosphere viscosity and dynamics revealed by magnetotelluric imaging. Science, 353: 1515–1519

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu L, Stegman D R. 2011. Segmentation of the Farallon slab. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 311: 1–10

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu L, Zhang J S. 2015. Differential contraction of subducted lithosphere layers generates deep earthquakes. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 421: 98–106

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu M Q, Li Z H. 2018. Dynamics of thinning and destruction of the continental cratonic lithosphere: Numerical modeling. Sci China Earth Sci, 61: 823–852

    Google Scholar 

  • Maruyama S, Yuen D A, Windley B F. 2007. Dynamics of plumes and superplumes through time. In: Yuen D A, Maruyama S, Karato S I, Windley B F, eds. Superplumes: Beyond Plate Tectonics. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. 441–502

  • Maruyama S. 1994. Plume tectonics. J Geol Soc Jpn, 100: 24–49

    Google Scholar 

  • McNamara A K. 2019. A review of large low shear velocity provinces and ultra low velocity zones. Tectonophysics, 760: 199–220

    Google Scholar 

  • Morgan W J. 1971. Convection plumes in the lower mantle. Nature, 230: 42–43

    Google Scholar 

  • Müller R D. 2011. Plate motion and mantle plumes. Nature, 475: 40–41

    Google Scholar 

  • Müller R D, Seton M, Zahirovic S, Williams S E, Matthews K J, Wright N M, Shephard G E, Maloney K T, Barnett-Moore N, Hosseinpour M, Bower D J, Cannon J. 2016. Ocean basin evolution and global-scale plate reorganization events since Pangea breakup. Annu Rev Earth Planet Sci, 44: 107–138

    Google Scholar 

  • Nishikawa T, Ide S. 2014. Earthquake size distribution in subduction zones linked to slab buoyancy. Nat Geosci, 7: 904–908

    Google Scholar 

  • Prokoph A, El Bilali H, Ernst R. 2013. Periodicities in the emplacement of large igneous provinces through the Phanerozoic: Relations to ocean chemistry and marine biodiversity evolution. Geosci Front, 4: 263–276

    Google Scholar 

  • Quinteros J, Sobolev S V. 2013. Why has the Nazca plate slowed since the Neogene? Geology, 41: 31–34

    Google Scholar 

  • Rowley D B, Forte A M, Rowan C J, Glišović P, Moucha R, Grand S P, Simmons N A. 2016. Kinematics and dynamics of the East Pacific Rise linked to a stable, deep-mantle upwelling. Sci Adv, 2: e1601107

    Google Scholar 

  • Schellart W P. 2004. Quantifying the net slab pull force as a driving mechanism for plate tectonics. Geophys Res Lett, 31: L07611

    Google Scholar 

  • Seton M, Müller R D, Zahirovic S, Gaina C, Torsvik T, Shephard G, Talsma A, Gurnis M, Turner M, Maus S, Chandler M. 2012. Global continental and ocean basin reconstructions since 200 Ma. Earth-Sci Rev, 113: 212–270

    Google Scholar 

  • Sharp W D, Clague D A. 2006. 50-Ma Initiation of Hawaiian-Emperor Bend records major change in Pacific plate motion. Science, 313: 1281–1284

    Google Scholar 

  • Stadler G, Gurnis M, Burstedde C, Wilcox L C, Alisic L, Ghattas O. 2010. The dynamics of plate tectonics and mantle flow: From local to global scales. Science, 329: 1033–1038

    Google Scholar 

  • Stern R J. 2002. Subduction zones. Rev Geophys, 40: 1012

    Google Scholar 

  • Stern R J. 2007. When and how did plate tectonics begin? Theoretical and empirical considerations. Chin Sci Bull, 52: 578–591

    Google Scholar 

  • Storey B C. 1995. The role of mantle plumes in continental breakup: Case histories from Gondwanaland. Nature, 377: 301–308

    Google Scholar 

  • Strategic Plan for the Development of Disciplines-Plate Tectonics and Continental Dynamics. 2017. Jointly Funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and Chinese Academy of Sciences (in Chinese). Beijing: Science Press

  • Tapponnier P, Molnar P. 1977. Active faulting and tectonics in China. J Geophys Res, 82: 2905–2930

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor B. 2006. The single largest oceanic plateau: Ontong Java-Manihiki-Hikurangi. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 241: 372–380

    Google Scholar 

  • Torsvik T H, Doubrovine P V, Steinberger B, Gaina C, Spakman W, Domeier M. 2017. Pacific plate motion change caused the Hawaiian-Emperor Bend. Nat Commun, 8: 15660

    Google Scholar 

  • van Hinsbergen D J J, Steinberger B, Doubrovine P V, Gassmöller R. 2011. Acceleration and deceleration of India-Asia convergence since the Cretaceous: Roles of mantle plumes and continental collision. J Geophys Res, 116: B06101

    Google Scholar 

  • Walter M J, Kohn S C, Araujo D, Bulanova G P, Smith C B, Gaillou E, Wang J, Steele A, Shirey S B. 2011. Deep mantle cycling of oceanic crust: Evidence from diamonds and their mineral inclusions. Science, 334: 54–57

    Google Scholar 

  • Wan B, Wu F, Chen L, Zhao L, Liang X, Xiao W, Zhu R. 2019. Cyclical one-way continental rupture-drift in the Tethyan evolution: Subduction-driven plate tectonics. Sci China Earth Sci, 62: 2005–2016

    Google Scholar 

  • Wessel P, Müller R D. 2015. Plate tectonics. In: Schubert G, ed. Treatise on Geophysics. Amsterdam: Elsevier. 6: 45–93

    Google Scholar 

  • Whittaker J M, Afonso J C, Masterton S, Müller R D, Wessel P, Williams S E, Seton M. 2015. Long-term interaction between mid-ocean ridges and mantle plumes. Nat Geosci, 8: 479–483

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson J T. 1963. Evidence from islands on the spreading of ocean floors. Nature, 197: 536–538

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson J T. 1973. Mantle plumes and plate motions. Tectonophysics, 19: 149–164

    Google Scholar 

  • Wu F Y, Yang J H, Xu Y G, Wilde S A, Walker R J. 2019. Destruction of the North China craton in the Mesozoic. Annu Rev Earth Planet Sci, 47: 173–195

    Google Scholar 

  • Yin A. 2010. Cenozoic tectonic evolution of Asia: A preliminary synthesis. Tectonophysics, 488: 293–325

    Google Scholar 

  • Zahirovic S, Müller R D, Seton M, Flament N. 2015. Tectonic speed limits from plate kinematic reconstructions. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 418: 40–52

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhang N, Dang Z, Huang C, Li Z X. 2018. The dominant driving force for supercontinent breakup: Plume push or subduction retreat? Geosci Front, 9: 997–1007

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhou Q, Liu L, Hu J. 2018. Western US volcanism due to intruding oceanic mantle driven by ancient Farallon slabs. Nat Geosci, 11: 70–76

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhu R X, Chen L, Wu F Y, Liu J L. 2011. Timing, scale and mechanism of the destruction of the North China Craton. Sci China Earth Sci, 54: 789–797

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the scientific editor and three reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions, which improved our manuscript. We appreciate helpful discussions with colleagues in Coffice 442 in IGGCAS. This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 91855207 and 41688103), the Strategic Priority Research Program (A) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. XDA20070302) and the independent project of the State Key Laboratory of the Lithospheric Evolution, IGGCAS (Grant No. SKLZ201704-11712180).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ling Chen.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chen, L., Wang, X., Liang, X. et al. Subduction tectonics vs. Plume tectonics—Discussion on driving forces for plate motion. Sci. China Earth Sci. 63, 315–328 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11430-019-9538-2

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11430-019-9538-2

Keywords

  • Driving forces for plate motion
  • Negative buoyancy of plates
  • Subduction tectonics
  • Plume tectonics