Exploring the theory of plate tectonics: the role of mantle lithosphere structure

Philip J. Heron, Russell N. Pysklywec, Randell Stephenson

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4 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


This review of the role of the mantle lithosphere in plate tectonic processes collates a wide range of recent studies from seismology and numerical modelling. A continually growing catalogue of deep geophysical imaging has illuminated the mantle lithosphere and generated new interpretations of how the lithosphere evolves. We review current ideas about the role of continental mantle lithosphere in plate tectonic processes. Evidence seems to be growing that scarring in the continental mantle lithosphere is ubiquitous, which implies a reassessment of the widely held view that it is the inheritance of crustal structure only (rather than the lithosphere as a whole) that is most important in the conventional theory of plate tectonics (e.g. the Wilson cycle). Recent studies have interpreted mantle lithosphere heterogeneities to be pre-existing structures and, as such, linked to the Wilson cycle and inheritance. We consider the current fundamental questions in the role of the mantle lithosphere in causing tectonic deformation, reviewing recent results and highlighting the potential of the deep lithosphere in infiltrating every aspect of plate tectonics processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-155
Number of pages19
JournalGeological Society Special Publications
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

From: WILSON, R. W., HOUSEMAN, G. A., MCCAFFREY, K. J. W., DORÉ, A. G. & BUITER, S. J. H. (eds) Fifty Years of the Wilson Cycle Concept in Plate Tectonics. Geological Society.

Funding Funding agency: Canadian Network for
Research and Innovation in Machining Technology,
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of
Canada. Funding agency ID: https://doi.org/10.13039/
501100002790. Principal award recipient Russell
RNP and PJH are grateful for funding from an NSERC
Discovery Grant. PJH is also grateful for funding from
a DIFeREns2 COFUND Junior Research Fellowship
(2017). The DIFeREns2 project has received funding from
the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for
research, technological development and demonstration
under grant agreement no 609412. Computations were performed
on the GPC supercomputer at the SciNet HPC Consortium
(Loken et al. 2010). SciNet is funded by the Canada
Foundation for Innovation under the auspices of Compute
Canada, the Government of Ontario, Ontario Research
Fund-Research Excellence, and the University of Toronto.


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