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Experimental and observational evidence for plume-induced subduction on Venus

Abstract

Why Venus lacks plate tectonics remains an unanswered question in terrestrial planet evolution. There is observational evidence for subduction—a requirement for plate tectonics—on Venus, but it is unclear why the features have characteristics of both mantle plumes and subduction zones. One explanation is that mantle plumes trigger subduction. Here we compare laboratory experiments of plume-induced subduction in a colloidal solution of nanoparticles to observations of proposed subduction sites on Venus. The experimental fluids are heated from below to produce upwelling plumes, which in turn produce tensile fractures in the lithosphere-like skin that forms on the upper surface. Plume material upwells through the fractures and spreads above the skin, analogous to volcanic flooding, and leads to bending and eventual subduction of the skin along arcuate segments. The segments are analogous to the semi-circular trenches seen at two proposed sites of plume-triggered subduction at Quetzalpetlatl and Artemis coronae. Other experimental deformation structures and subsurface density variations are also consistent with topography, radar and gravity data for Venus. Scaling analysis suggests that this regime with limited, plume-induced subduction is favoured by a hot lithosphere, such as that found on early Earth or present-day Venus.

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Figure 1: Experiment in aqueous colloidal dispersion dried from above and heated from below.
Figure 2: Artemis Corona.
Figure 3: Quetzalpetlatl Corona.
Figure 4: Close up on the boundary between the subducting lithosphere and the plume material.
Figure 5: Gravity data for Artemis and Quetzalpetlatl Coronae.
Figure 6: Necessary condition for plume-induced subduction based on the elastic bending criterion (KS > 1) (see Methods).

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Acknowledgements

Part of this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. S.E.S. was supported by Jet Propulsion Laboratory internal funds, and A.D. by grants from PNP-INSU and the French ANR ‘PTECTO’ (ANR-09-BLAN-0142). A.D. is grateful for the technical support of A. Aubertin, R. Pidoux and L. Auffray.

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A.D. carried out the laboratory experiments, determined the scaling laws, and proposed the geodynamical model for Venus plume-induced subduction. S.E.S. chose Venusian analogue sites and analysed image data. S.T. analysed gravity and topography data. S.E.S. and A.D. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to A. Davaille.

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Davaille, A., Smrekar, S. & Tomlinson, S. Experimental and observational evidence for plume-induced subduction on Venus. Nature Geosci 10, 349–355 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2928

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