Rheological control of oceanic crust separation in the transition zone

P. E. Van Keken, S. Karato, D. A. Yuen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Mineral physics observations suggest that distinct density and rheological differences exist between the crustal component of oceanic lithosphere and the underlying mantle. We have conducted numerical experiments to investigate the influence of both density and viscosity on the effectiveness of recycling of oceanic crust into the lower mantle. Confirming previous results, the density inversion at 670 km depth alone is not sufficient to prevent crustal recycling. However, a soft layer may exist between the strong garnet crust and cold slab interior. Models employing a simplified Newtonian sandwich model show that this thin, weak layer can effectively decouple the crust and slab. Once entrained into the lower mantle, the then lighter crust can rise sufficiently fast as a Rayleigh-Taylor instability to avoid further entrainment. These results suggest that the crustal component of slabs may be trapped at 670 km depth, leading to a garnet enriched transition zone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number96GL01594
Pages (from-to)1821-1824
Number of pages4
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number14
StatePublished - 1996


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