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The curvature of Wadati-Benioff zones and the torsional rigidity of subducting plates

Abstract

It is an axiom of plate tectonics that lithospheric plates are to a good approximation torsionally rigid, that is, inextensible in the ‘plane’ of the plate1–3. Although few scientists would question this assumption when it is applied to oceanic lithosphere at the Earth's surface, there is no consensus as to whether or not oceanic lithosphere maintains its mechanical integrity during subduction (com-pare refs 4–7 with refs 8–11). I show here that the shapes of many Wadati-Bemoff zones are inconsistent with the notion that they manifest subducted portions of oceanic plates subject only to very small (1%) membrane strains.

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