Pressure Driven Poiseuille Flow: A Major Component of the Torque-Balance Governing Pacific Plate Motion

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The Pacific plate is thought to be driven mainly by slab pull, associated with subduction along the Aleutians–Japan, Marianas–Izu–Bonin and Tonga–Kermadec trenches. This implies that viscous flow within the sub–Pacific asthenosphere is mainly generated by overlying plate motion (i.e. Couette flow), and that the associated shear–stresses at the lithosphere's base are resisting such motion. Recent studies on glacial isostatic adjustment and lithosphere dynamics provide tighter constraints on the viscosity and thickness of Earth's asthenosphere and, therefore, on the amount of shear–stress that asthenosphere and lithosphere mutually exchange, by virtue of Newton's third law of motion. In light of these constraints, the notion that subduction is the main driver of present–day Pacific plate motion becomes somewhat unviable, as the pulling force that would be required by slabs exceeds the maximum available from their negative buoyancy. Here we use coupled global models of mantle and lithosphere dynamics to show that the sub–Pacific asthenosphere features a significant component of pressure–driven (i.e. Poiseuille) flow, and that this has driven at least 50% of the Pacific plate motion since, at least, 15 Ma. A corollary of our models is that a sub–lithospheric pressure difference as high as ±50 MPa is required across the Pacific domain.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)117-125
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2018

ID: 186710927