Role of temperature-dependent viscosity and surface plates in spherical shell models of mantle convection

Shijie Zhong*, Maria T. Zuber, Louis Moresi, Michael Gurnis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

506 Citations (Scopus)


Layered viscosity, temperature-dependent viscosity, and surface plates have an important effect on the scale and morphology of structure in spherical models of mantle convection. We find that long-wavelength structures can be produced either by a layered viscosity with a weak upper mantle or temperature-dependent viscosity even in the absence of surface plates, corroborating earlier studies. However, combining the layered viscosity structure with a temperature-dependent viscosity results in structure with significantly shorter wavelengths. Our models show that the scale of convection is mainly controlled by the surface plates, supporting the previous two-dimensional studies. Our models with surface plates, layered and temperature-dependent viscosity, and internal heating explain mantle structures inferred from seismic tomography. The models show that hot upwellings initiate at the core-mantle boundary (CMB) with linear structures, and as they depart from CMB, the linear upwellings quickly change into quasi-cylindrical plumes that dynamically interact with the ambient mantle and surface plates while ascending through the mantle. A linear upwelling structure is generated again at shallow depths (<200 km) in the vicinity of diverging plate margins because of the surface plates. At shallow depths, cold downwelling sheets form at converging plate margins. The evolution of downwelling sheets depends on the mantle rheology. The temperature-dependent viscosity strengthens the downwelling sheets so that the sheet structure can be maintained throughout the mantle. The tendency for linear upwelling and downwelling structures to break into plume-like structures is stronger at higher Rayleigh numbers. Our models also show that downwellings to first-order control surface plate motions and the locations and horizontal motion of upwellings. Upwellings tend to form at stagnation points predicted solely from the buoyancy forces of downwellings. Temperature-dependent viscosity greatly enhances the ascending velocity of developed upwelling plumes, and this may reduce the influence of global mantle flow on the motion of plumes. Our results can explain the anticorrelation between hotspot distribution and fast seismic wave speed anomalies in the lower mantle and may also have significant implications to the observed stationarity of hotspots.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2000JB900003
Pages (from-to)11063-11082
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue numberB5
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2000
Externally publishedYes


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