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Indian and African plate motions driven by the push force of the Réunion plume head


Mantle plumes are thought to play an important part in the Earth’s tectonics, yet it has been difficult to isolate the effect that plumes have on plate motions. Here we analyse the plate motions involved in two apparently disparate events—the unusually rapid motion of India between 67 and 52 million years ago and a contemporaneous, transitory slowing of Africa’s motion—and show that the events are coupled, with the common element being the position of the Indian and African plates relative to the location of the Réunion plume head. The synchroneity of these events suggests that they were both driven by the force of the Réunion plume head. The recognition of this plume force has substantial tectonic implications: the speed-up and slowdown of India, the possible cessation of convergence between Africa and Eurasia in the Palaeocene epoch and the enigmatic bends of the fracture zones on the Southwest Indian Ridge can all be attributed to the Réunion plume.

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Figure 1: Tectonic reconstruction of Indian Ocean at 63.1 Myr ago.
Figure 2: Constraints on the motion of India.
Figure 3: Constraints on the motion of adjacent ridges.
Figure 4: Constraints on Africa’s absolute motion.
Figure 5: Explanation of stage pole swing.
Figure 6: Effect of the plume head force on absolute motion of Africa.

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We thank J. Stock for discussions. R. Gordon and D. Müller made comments on the manuscript. Funding was provided by NSF grant ANT-0944345 (to S.C.C.).

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Both authors contributed equally to the ideas and design of the research. S.C.C. developed the new methodology and performed kinematic analysis. Both authors contributed to writing the paper.

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Correspondence to Steven C. Cande.

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Cande, S., Stegman, D. Indian and African plate motions driven by the push force of the Réunion plume head. Nature 475, 47–52 (2011).

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