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Author Topic: Subduction  (Read 557 times)
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« on: August 01, 2008, 12:45:27 am »

General description

Subduction zones mark sites of convective downwelling of the Earth's lithosphere (the crust plus the strong portion of the upper mantle). Subduction zones exist at convergent plate boundaries where one plate of oceanic lithosphere converges with another plate and sinks below it to depth of approximately 100 km. At that depth the peridotite of the oceanic slab is converted to eclogite, the density of the edge of the oceanic lithosphere increases and it sinks into the mantle. It is at subduction zones that the Earth's lithosphere, oceanic crust, sedimentary layers, and trapped water are recycled into the deep mantle. Earth is the only planet where subduction is known to occur. Without subduction, plate tectonics could not exist and Earth would be a very different planet: Earth's crust would not have differentiated into continents and oceans and all of the solid Earth would lie beneath a global ocean.

Subduction results from the difference in density between lithosphere and underlying asthenosphere. Where, very rarely, lithosphere is denser than asthenospheric mantle, it can easily sink back into the mantle at a subduction zone; however, subduction is resisted where lithosphere is less dense than underlying asthenosphere. Whether or not lithosphere is denser than underlying asthenosphere depends on the nature of the associated crust. Crust is always less dense than asthenosphere or lithospheric mantle and continental lithosphere is always less dense than oceanic lithosphere. Exceptionally, the presence of the large areas of flood basalt that are called large igneous provinces (LIPs), which result in extreme thickening of the oceanic crust, can cause some sections of older oceanic lithosphere to be too buoyant to subduct. Where lithosphere on the downgoing plate is too buoyant to subduct, a collision occurs, hence the adage "Subduction leads to orogeny".

Subduction zones are arc-shaped, with the concave side oriented away from the direction of subduction because of the curvature of the Earth. This can easily be seen by making a cut into an orange, with the knife blade representing a subducting slab.

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