Original paper

Dynamic effects of aseismic ridge subduction: numerical modelling

Gerya, Taras V.; Fossati, David; Cantieni, Curdin; Seward, Diane


The subduction of oceanic aseismic ridges, oceanic plateaus and seamount chains is a common process that takes place in a variety of tectonic settings and seems to coincide spatially and temporally with a gap of volcanic activity, shallow or even horizontal slab angles, enhanced seismic activity and various topographic features. In the present study we focus on these dynamic effects on the basis of 2D thermomechanical modelling incorporating effects of slab dehydration, mantle-wedge melting and surface topography development. In order to ascertain the impact of a moderate-size (200 × 18 km) aseismic ridge, 12 pairs of experiments (one for the case with a ridge, the other without) were carried out varying slab density and subducting- and overriding-plate velocities. By analysing pairs of experiments we conclude that subduction of a moderate-sized ridge does not typically result in strong slab flattening and related decrease of magmatic activity. This, in turn, suggests that, when slab flattening is indeed associated with the ridge subduction in nature, the slab itself should be in a nearly critical (i.e., transient from inclined to flat) state so that any local addition of positive buoyancy may strongly affect overall slab dynamics. Therefore, subducting ridges may serve as indicators of transient slab states in nature. Another important result from our study is the numerical quantification of strongly decreased magma production associated with flat slabs that may explain gaps in recent active volcanism at low-angle subduction margins. Lowering of magmatic rock production is caused by the absence of a hot mantle wedge above the flat slabs and does not directly depend on the mechanism responsible for the triggering of slab flattening. Finally we document several very distinct surface effects associated with the moderate-size ridge subduction such as local increase in elevation of overriding margin, enhancement of subduction erosion and landward trench displacement. Surface uplift may exceed the original ridge height due to additional uplift resulting from the overriding plate shortening. Topographic perturbations within the accretionary wedge domain are transient and have a tendency to relax after the ridge passes the trench. In contrast, the topographic high created in the continental portion of the overriding plate relaxes more slowly and may even be sustained for several millions of year after the ridge subduction.