Three-dimensional dynamics of hydrous thermal-chemical plumes in oceanic subduction zones

Guizhi Zhu, Taras V. Gerya, David A Yuen, Satoru Honda, Takeyoshi Yoshida, James A.D. Connolly

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Hydration and partial melting along subducting slabs can trigger Rayleigh-Taylor-like instabilities. We use 3-D petrological-thermomechanical numerical simulations to investigate small-scale convection and hydrous, partially molten, cold plumes formed in the mantle wedge in response to slab dehydration. The simulations were carried out with the I3ELVIS code, which is based on a multigrid approach combined with marker-in-cell methods and conservative finite difference schemes. Our numerical simulations show that three types of plumes occur above the slab-mantle interface: (1) finger-like plumes that form sheet-like structure parallel to the trench, (2) ridge-like structures perpendicular to the trench, and (3) flattened wavelike instabilities propagating upward along the upper surface of the slab and forming zigzag patterns parallel to the trench. The viscosity of the plume material is the main factor controlling the geometry of the plumes. Our results show that lower viscosity of the partially molten rocks facilitates the Rayleigh-Taylorlike instabilities with small wavelengths. In particular, in low-viscosity models (1018-1019 Pa s) the typical spacing of finger-like plumes is about 30-45 km, while in high-viscosity models (1020-10 21 Pa s) plumes become rather sheet-like, and the spacing between them increases to 70-100 km. Water released from the slab forms a low-viscosity wedge with complex 3-D geometries. The computed spatial and temporal pattern of melt generation intensity above the slab is compared to the distribution and ages of volcanoes in the northeast Japan. Based on the similarity of the patterns we suggest that specific clustering of volcanic activity in this region could be potentially related to the activity of thermal-chemical plumes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberQ11006
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2009


  • 3-D thermal-chemical plumes
  • Japanese volcanism
  • Subduction zone

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    Zhu, G., Gerya, T. V., Yuen, D. A., Honda, S., Yoshida, T., & Connolly, J. A. D. (2009). Three-dimensional dynamics of hydrous thermal-chemical plumes in oceanic subduction zones. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 10(11), [Q11006].