Influence of supercontinents on deep mantle flow

C. O'Neill*, A. Lenardic, A. M. Jellinek, L. Moresi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


The assembly of supercontinents should impact mantle flow fields significantly, affecting the distribution of subduction, upwelling plumes, lower mantle chemical heterogeneities, and thus plausibly contributing to voluminous volcanism that is often associated with their breakup. Alternative explanations for this volcanism include insulation by the continent and thus elevated subcontinental mantle temperatures. Here we model the thermal and dynamic impact of supercontinents on Earth-like mobile-lid convecting systems. We confirm that insulating supercontinents (over 3000 km extent) can impact mantle temperatures, but show the scale of temperature anomaly is significantly less for systems with strongly temperature-dependent viscosities and mobile continents. Additionally, for continents over 8000 km, mantle temperatures are modulated by the development of small-scale convecting systems under the continent, which arise due to inefficient lateral convection of heat at these scales. We demonstrate a statistically robust association between rising plumes supercontinental interiors for a variety of continental configurations, driven largely by the tendency of subducting slabs to lock onto continental margins. The distribution of slabs also affects the spatial positioning of deep mantle thermochemical anomalies, which demonstrate stable configurations in either the sub-supercontinent or intraoceanic domains. We find externally forced rifting scenarios unable to generate significant melt rates, and thus the ultimate cause of supercontinent breakup related volcanism is probably related to dynamic continental rifting in response to mantle reconfiguration events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-287
Number of pages12
JournalGondwana Research
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


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