Lasting mantle scars lead to perennial plate tectonics

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Mid-ocean ridges, transform faults, subduction and continental collisions form the conventional theory of plate tectonics to explain non-rigid behaviour at plate boundaries. However, the theory does not explain directly the processes involved in intraplate deformation and seismicity. Recently, damage structures in the lithosphere have been linked to the origin of plate tectonics. Despite seismological imaging suggesting that inherited mantle lithosphere heterogeneities are ubiquitous, their plate tectonic role is rarely considered. Here we show that deep lithospheric anomalies can dominate shallow geological features in activating tectonics in plate interiors. In numerical experiments, we found that structures frozen into the mantle lithosphere through plate tectonic processes can behave as quasi-plate boundaries reactivated under far-field compressional forcing. Intraplate locations where proto-lithospheric plates have been scarred by earlier suturing could be regions where latent plate boundaries remain, and where plate tectonics processes are expressed as a 'perennial' phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11834
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalNature Communications
Early online date10 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

R.N.P. and P.J.H. are grateful for funding from an NSERC Discovery Grant. Computations were performed on the GPC supercomputer at the SciNet HPC Consortium. 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. Numerical calculations were done using a modified version of the SOPALE (2000) software. The SOPALE modelling code was originally developed by Philippe Fullsack at Dalhousie University with Chris Beaumont and his Geodynamics group.


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