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The potential influence of subduction zone polarity on overriding plate deformation, trench migration and slab dip angle

Author:
W.P. Schellart  


Journal:
Tectonophysics


Issue Date:
2007


Abstract(summary):

A geodynamic model exists, the westward lithospheric drift model, in which the variety of overriding plate deformation, trench migration and slab dip angles is explained by the polarity of subduction zones. The model predicts overriding plate extension, a fixed trench and a steep slab dip for westward-dipping subduction zones (e.g. Mariana) and predicts overriding plate shortening, oceanward trench retreat and a gentle slab dip for east to northeastward-dipping subduction zones (e.g. Chile). This paper investigates these predictions quantitatively with a global subduction zone analysis. The results show overriding plate extension for all dip directions (azimuth α = − 180° to 180°) and overriding plate shortening for dip directions with α = − 90° to 110°. The wide scatter in data negate any obvious trend and only local mean values in overriding plate deformation rate indicate that overriding plate extension is somewhat more prevalent for west-dipping slabs. West-dipping subduction zones are never fixed, irrespective of the choice of reference frame, while east to northeast-dipping subduction zones are both retreating and advancing in five out of seven global reference frames. In addition, westward-dipping subduction zones have a range in trench-migration velocities that is twice the magnitude of that for east to northeastward-dipping slabs. Finally, there is no recognizable correlation between slab dip direction and slab dip angle. East to northeast-dipping slabs (α = 30° to 120°) have shallow (0–125 km) slab dip angles in the range 10–60° and deep (125–670 km) slab dip angles in the range 40–82°, while west-dipping slabs (α = − 60° to − 120°) have shallow slab dip angles in the range 19–50° and deep slab dip angles in the range 25–86°. Local mean deep slab dip angles are nearly identical for east and west-dipping slabs, while local mean shallow slab dip angles are lower by only 4.7–8.1° for east to northeast-dipping slabs. It is thus concluded that overall, there is no observational basis to support the three predictions made by the westward drift model, and for some sub-predictions the observational basis is very weak at most. Alternative models, which incorporate and underline the importance of slab buoyancy-driven trench migration, slab width and overriding plate motion, are better candidates to explain the complexity of subduction zones, including the variety in trench-migration velocities, overriding plate deformation and slab dip angles.


Page:
363-372


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