Dynamics of cratons in an evolving mantle

C. J. O'Neill*, A. Lenardic, W. L. Griffin, Suzanne Y. O'Reilly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


The tectonic quiescence of cratons on a tectonically active planet has been attributed to their physical properties such as buoyancy, viscosity, and yield strength. Previous modelling has shown the conditions under which cratons may be stable for the present, but cast doubt on how they survived in a more energetic mantle of the past. Here we incorporate an endothermic phase change at 670 km, and a depth-dependent viscosity structure consistent with post-glacial rebound and geoid modelling, to simulate the dynamics of cratons in an "Earth-like" convecting system. We find that cratons are unconditionally stable in such systems for plausible ranges of viscosity ratios between the root and asthenosphere (50-150) and the root/oceanic lithosphere yield strength ratio (5-30). Realistic mantle viscosity structures have limited effect on the average background cratonic stress state, but do buffer cratons from extreme stress excursions. An endothermic phase change at 670 km introduces an additional time-dependence into the system, with slab breakthrough into the lower mantle associated with 2-3 fold stress increases at the surface. Under Precambrian mantle conditions, however, the dominant effect is not more violent mantle avalanches, or faster mantle/plate velocities, but rather the drastic viscosity drop which results from hotter mantle conditions in the past. This results in a large decrease in the cratonic stress field, and promotes craton survival under the evolving mantle conditions of the early Earth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-24
Number of pages13
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Cratons
  • Mantle avalanche
  • Mantle convection
  • Mantle lithosphere

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