Comprehensive plate models for the thermal evolution of oceanic lithosphere

Christopher J. Grose, Juan Carlos Afonso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


Seafloor spreading and the cooling of oceanic lithosphere is a fundamental feature of plate tectonics in the Earth, the details of which are unveiled by modeling with constraints from mineral physics and geophysical observations. To work toward a more complete model of the thermal evolution of oceanic lithosphere, we investigate the contributions of axial hydrothermal circulation, oceanic crust, and temperature-pressure-dependent thermal properties. We find that models with only temperature-dependent properties disagree with geophysical observations unless properties are artificially modified. On the other hand, more comprehensive models are in better agreement with geophysical observations. Our preferred model requires a thermal expansivity reduction of 15% from a mineral physics estimate, and predicts a plate thickness of about 110-130 km. A principal result of our analysis is that the oceanic crust is a major contributor to the cooling of oceanic lithosphere. The oceanic crust acts as an insulating lid on the mantle, causing the rate of lithospheric cooling to increase from "crustal" values near the ridge to higher mantle values at old-age. Major consequences of this insulation effect are: (a) low seafloor subsidence rate in proximity to ridge axes (<5 Ma), (b) the thermal structure of oceanic lithosphere is significantly warmer than previous models, (c) seafloor heat flow is significantly lower over young (<35 Ma) seafloor compared to simple models, (d) a low net seafloor heat flux (∼27 TW), and (e) temperature at the base of the seismogenic zone extends to 700-800°C mantle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3751-3778
Number of pages28
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2013


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