Nav: Home

What drives plate tectonics?

September 02, 2019

Plate tectonics is founded in the late 1960s, and it concerns the distribution and movements of plates, the upper most layer of the Earth. Plate movements not only control the distributions of the earthquakes, volcanos, and mineral resources in the crust, but also effect the ocean and atmospheric circulations above the crust. Therefore, plate tectonics has been regarded as the fundamental unifying paradigm for understanding the history of Earth.

However, it is not like the widely accepted kinematics of plate tectonics, the driving force of plate tectonics is still one of the most challenging problems since the birth of the theory. The subduction of oceanic slabs is considered as the dominant driving force based on observations of Cenozoic subduction systems along the circum-Pacific region. However, the difficulty to observe the oceanic subduction slabs beneath collisional orogens hampers the ability to quantitatively evaluate the role of subducting oceanic slabs. Alternative driving forces such as ridge push, continental slab-pull, plume upwelling and large-scale mantle convection have been proposed at different subduction-collision belts along the Tethyan Realm (Fig 1), the largest continental collisional zone. The Tethyan evolution can be summarized as many continental fragments were ruptured sequentially from Gondwana and then drift towards Laurasia/Eurasia.

Scientists from the State Key Laboratory of Lithospheric Evolution, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing found "switches" between continental rupture, continental collision, and oceanic subduction initiation in the Tethyan evolution after a reappraisal of geological records from the surface and new global-scale geophysical images at depth. They proposed that the "switches" were all controlled by oceanic subductions. All oceanic Tethyan slabs acted as a 'one-way train' that transferred the Gondwana-detached continents in the south into the terminal in the north, so they depicted the whole scenario as "Tethyan one-way train" (Figure. 2a and b). The engine of the "train" was the negative buoyancy of the subducting oceanic slabs. The results also shed light on supercontinent assembly and breakup cycles. Subductions not only assemble the supercontinent but also effectively break-up the supercontinent.

The new results will not close the discussions on driving force of plate tectonics, but more future Tethyan research may test the new proposal and improve the understanding of how plate tectonics works.
-end-
This research was funded by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 91855207, 41888101) and the Programs of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Nos. 2013047, GJHZ1776).

See the article: 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. Science China Earth Sciences, 62, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11430-019-9393-4

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11430-019-9393-4

Science China Press

Related Plate Tectonics Articles:

What drives plate tectonics?
Scientists found ''switches'' between continental rupture, continental collision, and oceanic subduction initiation in the Tethyan evolution after a reappraisal of geological records from the surface and new global-scale geophysical images at depth.
A rocky relationship: A history of Earth's continents breaking up and getting back together
A new study of rocks that formed billions of years ago lends fresh insight into how Earth's plate tectonics, or the movement of large pieces of Earth's outer shell, evolved over the planet's 4.56-billion-year history.
Plate tectonics may have driven 'Cambrian Explosion, study shows
The quest to discover what drove one of the most important evolutionary events in the history of life on Earth has taken a new, fascinating twist.
Zipingpu Reservoir reveals climate-tectonics interplay around 2008 Wenchuan earthquake
A new study led by Prof. JIN Zhangdong from the Institute of Earth Environment (IEE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences provided a new insight on the interplay between climate and tectonics from a sediment record in the Zipingpu Reservoir around the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.
How to keep fish in the sea and on the plate
Temporary bans on fishing can be better than permanent ones as a way of allowing fish stocks in an area to recover, while still providing enough to eat, a research team has found.
Glacial sediments greased the gears of plate tectonics
According to new research, the transition to plate tectonics started with the help of lubricating sediments, scraped by glaciers from the slopes of Earth's first continents.
Tectonics in the tropics trigger Earth's ice ages, study finds
Over the last 540 million years, the Earth has weathered three major ice ages -- periods during which global temperatures plummeted, producing extensive ice sheets and glaciers that have stretched beyond the polar caps.
Natatanuran frogs used the Indian Plate to step-stone disperse and radiate across the Indian Ocean
The evolutionary history of near-cosmopolitan Natatanuran frogs involved using the Indian Plate as a stepping-stone to disperse between Africa, Asia and Madagascar.
Enhanced views of Earth tectonics
Scientists from Germany's Kiel University and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have used data from the European Space Agency (ESA), Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) mission to unveil key geological features of the Earth's lithosphere -- the rigid outer layer that includes the crust and the upper mantle.
Plate tectonics may have been active on Earth since the very beginning
A new study suggests that plate tectonics -- a scientific theory that divides the earth into large chunks of crust that move slowly over hot viscous mantle rock -- could have been active from the planet's very beginning.
More Plate Tectonics News and Plate Tectonics Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.