Geology 38, 155–158 (2010)

One of the driving factors shaping the face of the planet is subduction, the process in which Earth's massive tectonic plates dive beneath one another. But what happens when subduction stops?

One possible answer is that buoyant rock from deep within the mantle rises to alter the landscape for many millions of years after subduction ends. So say Rupert Sutherland of GNS Science in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, and his colleagues.

The researchers compared the results of a subduction model with observations of the sea floor between New Zealand and Antarctica. They say the idea that upwelling can begin after subduction stops explains a number of observed anomalies — including the fact that parts of West Antarctica and the adjacent sea floor have risen more than expected.