Seismological evidence of mantle flow driving plate motions at a palaeo-spreading centre

Date:Apr 23, 2014    |  【 A  A  A 】

From Nature

A long-standing question about the dynamics of mid-ocean spreading centres is whether mantle upwelling is passive or active. During passive upwelling, the motion of the overlying plate would be expected to drive mantle flow. In contrast, during active upwelling, decompression melting of the mantle beneath the spreading axis would result in a low-density melt that creates local buoyancy, forcing mantle convection and driving plate motion. Seismic images of older parts of the Pacific Plate reveal dipping reflectors in the lower crust that could be shear zones created by active mantle flow, but there is little seismological evidence to indicate that mantle flow drags the plate. Here we use active-source seismic data to image the Pacific Plate that was created at a palaeo-spreading centre in the northwest Pacific Ocean. We identify very high P-wave velocities of 8.5–8.6 km s?1 and strong seismic anisotropy of 8.5–9.8% in the uppermost mantle, immediately below the lower-crustal dipping reflectors. We suggest that such strong seismic anisotropy, caused by the alignment of olivine crystals in response to mantle flow, could have been generated if mantle flow was much faster than plate motion. We conclude that both the lower-crustal dipping reflectors and the anisotropy were formed by a drag force at the Moho caused by rapid mantle flow, providing direct evidence for active mantle flow at a spreading centre.

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