The formation of a global network of plate boundaries surrounding a mosaic of lithospheric fragments was a key step in the emergence of Earth’s plate tectonics. So far, propositions for plate boundary formation are regional in nature; how plate boundaries are created over thousands of kilometres in geologically short periods remains elusive. Here we show from geological observations that a >12,000-km-long plate boundary formed between the Indian and African plates around 105 Myr ago. This boundary comprised subduction segments from the eastern Mediterranean region to a newly established India–Africa rotation pole in the west Indian Ocean, where it transitioned into a ridge between India and Madagascar. We identify coeval mantle plume rise below Madagascar–India as the only viable trigger of this plate rotation. For this, we provide a proof of concept by torque balance modelling, which reveals that the Indian and African cratonic keels were important in determining plate rotation and subduction initiation in response to the spreading plume head. Our results show that plumes may provide a non-plate-tectonic mechanism for large-plate rotation, initiating divergent and convergent plate boundaries far away from the plume head. We suggest that this mechanism may be an underlying cause of the emergence of modern plate tectonics.
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GPlates files with reconstructions used to draft Fig. 1 are provided at https://figshare.com/articles/dataset/van_Hinsbergen_NatureGeo_2021_GPlates_zip/13516727.
All codes used in the geodynamic modelling in this study are available at https://figshare.com/articles/software/van_Hinsbergen_etal_NatureGeo_2021_geodynamics_package/13635089.
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D.J.J.v.H. acknowledges funding through European Research Council Starting Grant 306810 (SINK) (also funding M.M., D.G., A.P. and E.L.A.), Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) Vidi grant 864.11.004 (also funding K.P. and P.J.M.) and Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) Vici grant 865.17.001. B.S. and C. Gaina received funding from the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence funding scheme, project no. 223272. B.S. acknowledges the innovation pool of the Helmholtz Association through the Advanced Earth System Modelling Capacity (ESM) activity. C. Guilmette was funded through Discovery Grant (RGPIN-2014-05681) from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We thank I. L. ten Kate and D. Bandyopadhyay for discussion and F. Capitanio and D. Müller for their comments.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Geoscience thanks R. Dietmar Muller, Fabio Capitanio and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Stefan Lachowycz.
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van Hinsbergen, D.J.J., Steinberger, B., Guilmette, C. et al. A record of plume-induced plate rotation triggering subduction initiation. Nat. Geosci. 14, 626–630 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00780-7
Nature Geoscience (2022)
Communications Earth & Environment (2021)