Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Trench-parallel anisotropy produced by serpentine deformation in the hydrated mantle wedge


Seismic anisotropy is a powerful tool for detecting the geometry and style of deformation in the Earth’s interior, as it primarily reflects the deformation-induced preferred orientation of anisotropic crystals1,2. Although seismic anisotropy in the upper mantle is generally attributed to the crystal-preferred orientation of olivine3, the strong trench-parallel anisotropy (delay time of one to two seconds) observed in several subduction systems4,5 is difficult to explain in terms of olivine anisotropy, even if the entire mantle wedge were to act as an anisotropic source. Here we show that the crystal-preferred orientation of serpentine, the main hydrous mineral in the upper mantle, can produce the strong trench-parallel seismic anisotropy observed in subduction systems. High-pressure deformation experiments reveal that the serpentine c-axis tends to rotate to an orientation normal to the shear plane during deformation; consequently, seismic velocity propagating normal to the shear plane (plate interface) is much slower than that in other directions. The seismic anisotropy estimated for deformed serpentine aggregates is an order of magnitude greater than that for olivine6, and therefore the alignment of serpentine in the hydrated mantle wedge results in a strong trench-parallel seismic anisotropy in the case of a steeply subducting slab. This hypothesis is also consistent with the presence of a hydrous phase in the mantle wedge, as inferred from anomalously low seismic-wave velocities7.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Observations of shear-wave splitting in the Japan subduction system.
Figure 2: Optical microphotographs of experimentally deformed serpentine.
Figure 3: Pole figures and seismic anisotropy of experimentally deformed serpentine.
Figure 4: Schematic cross-section through the Ryukyu arc.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Nicolas, A. & Christensen, N. I. in Composition, Structure and Dynamics of the Lithosphere-Asthenosphere System (eds Fuchs, K. & Froideveaux, C.) 407–433 (American Geophysical Union, 1987)

    Google Scholar 

  2. Long, M. D. & Silver, P. G. The subduction zone flow field from seismic anisotropy: a global view. Science 319, 315–318 (2008)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Zhang, S. & Karato, S. Lattice preferred orientation of olivine aggregates deformed in simple shear. Nature 375, 774–777 (1995)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Long, M. D. & van der Hilst, R. D. Shear wave splitting from local events beneath the Ryukyu arc: trench-parallel anisotropy in the mantle wedge. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 155, 300–312 (2006)

    Google Scholar 

  5. Smith, G. P. et al. A complex pattern of mantle flow in the Lau backarc. Science 292, 713–716 (2001)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Katayama, I. & Karato, S. Effect of temperature on the B- to C-type olivine fabric transition and implication for flow pattern in subduction zones. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 157, 33–45 (2006)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Wang, Z., Huang, R., Huang, J. & He, Z. P-wave velocity and gradient images beneath the Okinawa trough. Tectonophysics 455, 1–13 (2008)

    Google Scholar 

  8. Wiens, D. A., Conder, J. A. & Faul, U. H. The seismic structure and dynamics of the mantle wedge. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 36, 421–455 (2008)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Nakajima, J. & Hasegawa, A. Shear-wave polarization anisotropy and subduction-induced flow in the mantle wedge of northeastern Japan. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 225, 365–377 (2004)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Katayama, I. Thin anisotropic layer in the mantle wedge beneath northeast Japan. Geology 37, 211–214 (2009)

    Google Scholar 

  11. Auzende, A. L., Pellenq, R. J. M., Devouard, B., Baronnet, A. & Grauby, O. Atomistic calculations of structural and elastic properties of serpentine minerals: the case of lizardite. Phys. Chem. Miner. 33, 266–275 (2006)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Abramson, E. H., Brown, J. M., Slutsky, L. J. & Zaug, J. The elastic constants of San Carlos olivine to 17 GPa. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 12253–12263 (1997)

    Google Scholar 

  13. Hyndman, R. D. & Peacock, S. M. Serpentinization of the forearc mantle. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 212, 417–432 (2003)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Kneller, E. A., Long, M. D. & van Keken, P. E. Olivine fabric transitions and shear wave anisotropy in the Ryukyu subduction system. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 268, 268–282 (2008)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Hilairet, N. et al. High-pressure creep of serpentine, interseismic deformation, and initiation of subduction. Science 318, 1910–1913 (2007)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Kern, H., Liu, B. & Popp, T. Relation between anisotropy of P and S wave velocities and anisotropy of attenuation in serpentinite and amphibolite. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 3051–3065 (1997)

    Google Scholar 

  17. Watanabe, T., Kasami, H. & Ohshima, S. Compressional and shear wave velocities of serpentinized peridotites up to 200 MPa. Earth Planets Space 59, 233–244 (2007)

    Google Scholar 

  18. Li, C., van der Hilst, R. D. & Toksoz, M. N. Constraining P-wave velocity variations in the upper mantle beneath Southeast Asia. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 154, 180–195 (2006)

    Google Scholar 

  19. Buttles, J. & Olson, P. A. A laboratory model of subduction zone anisotropy. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 164, 245–262 (1998)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Kneller, E. A. & van Keken, P. Trench-parallel flow and seismic anisotropy in the Mariana and Andean subduction systems. Nature 450, 1222–1225 (2007)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Behn, M. D., Hirth, G. & Kelemen, P. Trench-parallel anisotropy produced by foundering of arc lower crust. Science 317, 108–111 (2007)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Jung, H. & Karato, S. Water-induced fabric transitions in olivine. Science 293, 1460–1463 (2001)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Faccenda, M., Burlini, L., Gerya, T. & Mainprice, D. Fault-induced seismic anisotropy by hydration in subducting oceanic plates. Nature 455, 1097–1101 (2008)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Hacker, B. R., Abers, G. A. & Peacock, S. M. Subduction factory. 1. Theoretical mineralogy, densities, seismic wave speeds, and H2O contents. J. Geophys. Res. 108 10.1029/2001JB001127 (2003)

  25. Nakajima, J., Matsuzawa, T., Hasegawa, A. & Zhao, D. Three-dimensional structure of Vp, Vs and Vp/Vs beneath northeast Japan: implications for arc magmatism and fluids. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 21843–21857 (2001)

    Google Scholar 

  26. Nakajima, J., Shimizu, J., Hori, S. & Hasegawa, A. Shear-wave splitting beneath the southwestern Kurile arc and northeastern Japan arc. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L05305 (2006)

    Google Scholar 

  27. Ando, J., Takeshita, T., Matsubara, K. & Hayasaka, Y. Evaluation of fundamental performance of a modified Griggs type apparatus installed at Hiroshima University. Jap. J. Struct. Geol. 49, 27–39 (2006)

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank T. Watanabe and S. Karato for comments and discussions. We also thank D. Mainprice and A. Tommasi for providing the crystallographic data for serpentine. This study was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).

Author Contributions I.K. and K.-i.H. planned the project and performed the experiments. K.M. has responsibility for the EBSD analysis, and J.-i.A. for the experimental procedures. All authors discussed the results and implications.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ikuo Katayama.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figure S1 and Legend and Supplementary Table S1. (PDF 101 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Katayama, I., Hirauchi, Ki., Michibayashi, K. et al. Trench-parallel anisotropy produced by serpentine deformation in the hydrated mantle wedge . Nature 461, 1114–1117 (2009).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing