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Tectonic predictions with mantle convection models

Abstract : Over the past 15 yr, numerical models of convection in Earth's mantle have made a leap forward: they can now produce self-consistent plate-like behaviour at the surface together with deep mantle circulation. These digital tools provide a new window into the intimate connections between plate tectonics and mantle dynamics, and can therefore be used for tectonic predictions, in principle. This contribution explores this assumption. First, initial conditions at 30, 20, 10 and 0 Ma are generated by driving a convective flow with imposed plate velocities at the surface. We then compute instantaneous mantle flows in response to the guessed temperature fields without imposing any boundary conditions. Plate boundaries self-consistently emerge at correct locations with respect to reconstructions, except for small plates close to subduction zones. As already observed for other types of instantaneous flow calculations, the structure of the top boundary layer and upper-mantle slab is the dominant character that leads to accurate predictions of surface velocities. Perturbations of the rheological parameters have little impact on the resulting surface velocities. We then compute fully dynamic model evolution from 30 and 10 to 0 Ma, without imposing plate boundaries or plate velocities. Contrary to instantaneous calculations, errors in kinematic predictions are substantial, although the plate layout and kinematics in several areas remain consistent with the expectations for the Earth. For these calculations, varying the rheological parameters makes a difference for plate boundary evolution. Also, identified errors in initial conditions contribute to first-order kinematic errors. This experiment shows that the tectonic predictions of dynamic models over 10 My are highly sensitive to uncertainties of rheological parameters and initial temperature field in comparison to instantaneous flow calculations. Indeed, the initial conditions and the rheological parameters can be good enough for an accurate prediction of instantaneous flow, but not for a prediction after 10 My of evolution. Therefore, inverse methods (sequential or data assimilation methods) using short-term fully dynamic evolution that predict surface kinematics are promising tools for a better understanding of the state of the Earth's mantle.
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https://hal-univ-lyon1.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02327174
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Submitted on : Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - 5:09:26 PM
Last modification on : Monday, March 23, 2020 - 12:50:06 PM

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Nicolas Coltice, Grace E. Shephard. Tectonic predictions with mantle convection models. Geophysical Journal International, Oxford University Press (OUP), 2018, 213 (1), pp.16--29. ⟨10.1093/gji/ggx531⟩. ⟨hal-02327174⟩

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