Letter | Published:

Asymmetric three-dimensional topography over mantle plumes

Nature volume 513, pages 8589 (04 September 2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

The role of mantle–lithosphere interactions in shaping surface topography has long been debated1,2,3. In general3,4, it is supposed that mantle plumes and vertical mantle flows result in axisymmetric, long-wavelength topography, which strongly differs from the generally asymmetric short-wavelength topography created by intraplate tectonic forces. However, identification of mantle-induced topography is difficult3, especially in the continents5. It can be argued therefore that complex brittle–ductile rheology and stratification of the continental lithosphere result in short-wavelength modulation and localization of deformation induced by mantle flow6. This deformation should also be affected by far-field stresses and, hence, interplay with the ‘tectonic’ topography (for example, in the ‘active/passive’ rifting scenario7,8). Testing these ideas requires fully coupled three-dimensional numerical modelling of mantle–lithosphere interactions, which so far has not been possible owing to the conceptual and technical limitations of earlier approaches. Here we present new, ultra-high-resolution, three-dimensional numerical experiments on topography over mantle plumes, incorporating a weakly pre-stressed (ultra-slow spreading), rheologically realistic lithosphere. The results show complex surface evolution, which is very different from the smooth, radially symmetric patterns usually assumed as the canonical surface signature of mantle upwellings9. In particular, the topography exhibits strongly asymmetric, small-scale, three-dimensional features, which include narrow and wide rifts, flexural flank uplifts and fault structures. This suggests a dominant role for continental rheological structure and intra-plate stresses in controlling dynamic topography, mantle–lithosphere interactions, and continental break-up processes above mantle plumes.

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Acknowledgements

B. Evans and P. Molnar are thanked for discussions. A. B. Watts is thanked for comments on the manuscript and corrections to it. This study was co-funded by an Advanced ERC grant RHEOLITH (E.B.), by INSU-CNRS, by a UPMC Invited Professor grant (T.G.) and by an ETH Invited Professor grant (E.B.). Numerical simulations were performed on the ETH Brutus cluster and on the ERC-funded SGI Ulysse cluster of ISTEP (UPMC). Open source software ParaView (http://www.paraview.org) was used for 3D visualization.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Sorbonne Universités, UPMC Université Paris 06, UMR 7193, Institut des Sciences de la Terre Paris (iSTeP), F-75005 Paris, France

    • Evgueni Burov
  2. CNRS, UMR 7193, Institut des Sciences de la Terre Paris (iSTeP), F-75005 Paris, France

    • Evgueni Burov
  3. ETH, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland

    • Taras Gerya

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Contributions

E.B. designed the study, conducted some of the 3D experiments, designed the 2D thermo-mechanical code and conducted 2D experiments. T.G. designed the 3D thermo-mechanical code and conducted some of the 3D experiments. Both authors discussed problems and methods, interpreted the data and wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Evgueni Burov.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13703

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