A simple picture of mantle wedge flow patterns and temperature variation

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The solid-state mantle flow is an important factor that controls the mass and heat transfer in the solid Earth. This study aims to provide a simple picture of three-dimensional (3-D) mantle flow patterns in the sub-arc region of subduction zones based on the results of 3-D steady-state numerical models with varying subduction parameters. Here, the mantle wedge flow pattern is evaluated based on the azimuthal directions of the mantle inflow from the back-arc and the down-dip outflow. The outflow direction generally parallels the subduction direction, but the inflow direction relative to the outflow direction depends on the local subduction obliquity – the angle between the subduction direction and the strike-normal axis of the subducting slab. A change in the strike of the slab leads to a change in the obliquity and thus the inflow direction. Such change is common along curved margins as the strike of the slab tends to follow that of the margin, or vice versa. Along convex-arc-ward margins, the mantle inflow is deflected towards the region of lowest obliquity but with reduced vigor due to lower dynamic pressure gradients that partly drive the flow, resulting in a cooler mantle wedge. Along concave-arc-ward margins, the mantle inflow is deflected away from the region of lowest obliquity but with increased vigor, resulting in a hotter mantle wedge. These effects increase with decreasing radius of curvature. Along-margin change in the dip of the subducting slab also affects the inflow direction through its impact on the strike of the slab, but its effect is relatively small. We express the azimuthal inner angle between the inflow and outflow directions as a function of obliquity and apply the function to predict sub-arc mantle inflow directions in the circum-Pacific and neighboring regions. Within and among these margins, the inner angle varies over its full range of 0–180°. Most of the margins that are 1000s of kilometers in length are either straight or curved concave-arc-ward with large radii of curvature, for which small or gradual along-margin changes in the mantle inflow direction and the mantle wedge temperature are predicted. A large drop in the mantle wedge temperature by up to a couple of hundred degrees is predicted at short convex-arc-ward segments, such as at the Kuril-Japan and Bonin-Mariana junctions. The fringes of flat slab segments are curved with small radii of curvature, likely resulting in sharp lateral changes in the inflow direction and the mantle wedge temperature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101848
JournalJournal of Geodynamics
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank J. He for the development of the numerical code PGCtherm3D and three anonymous reviewers for useful comments, which helped to improve the manuscript. This work was partially funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation through Grant EAR-1620604 to I.W and the University of Minnesota in the form of start-up funds. The data files containing the modeling results can be obtained by contacting the author iwada@umn.edu .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Arc
  • Mantle wedge flow pattern
  • Mantle wedge temperature
  • Margin curvature
  • Numerical subduction models
  • Slab geometry
  • Subduction
  • Subduction obliquity


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