Subduction dynamics: From the trench to the core‐mantle boundary


Chris Kincaid

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Subduction occurs along convergent plate boundaries where one of the colliding lithospheric plates descends into the mantle. Subduction zones are recognized where plates converge at ∼2–15 cm/yr, although well developed trenches and volcanic arcs (e.g. the line of active volcanoes lying parallel to most ocean trenches, such as the Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific) occur when convergence rates are higher, 4–10 cm/yr. This report is meant to provide a brief review on the general topic of subduction dynamics. A recent spin on subduction studies is the growing realization that the need to understand this global Earth process may be argued not only on purely scientific grounds, but also in terms of societal relevance. While subducting slabs of oceanic lithosphere clearly provide the dominant driving force for mantle dynamics and plate tectonics, over half of the Earth's present 40,000 km of subduction zones are associated with continental margins where a large and rapidly increasing percentage of the Earth's population resides. Subductioninduced hazards along active continental margins include those associated with volcanic hazards (Blong, 1984; Tilling, 1989) such as lava flows, pyroclastic flows and ash fallout and tectonic processes, such as faulting, tsunamis and earthquakes. With regards to earthquake hazards, all of the great (magnitude >9) earthquakes in recorded history have occurred at subduction zones, with 50% of all energy released since 1900 being in four events (1964‐Alaska; 1960‐Chile; 1957‐ Aleutians; 1952‐Kamchatka). Subduction zone hazards have significant impact on long time scales, such as contributions to global climate change (Robock, 1991; Simarski, 1992; Johnson, 1993; Bluth et al., 1993) and short time scales such as airline safety (Casadevall, 1992). Moreover, accretionary wedges are important in terms of resource potential and trenches have occasionally been suggested as nuclear waste disposal sites. Copyright 1995 by the American Geophysical Union.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Reviews of Geophysics




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