Planetary thermal evolution models with tectonic transitions

Craig O'Neill*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    Thermal history calculations provide important insights into the interior evolution of planets, but incorporate simplified dynamics from the systems they represent. Planetary interiors typical incorporate complex rheologies, viscous layering, lateral heterogeneities, and time delays in processes, which have not been traditionally represented by parameterised approaches. Here we develop numerical models for planetary evolution, incorporating the physical complexity of Earth's interior, and use them to generate statistically-based Nu-Ra scalings. These encapsulate the main effects of tectonic transitions, geometry, and depth-dependent rheology, and time-sensitivity. We find an exponent β of ~0.26 best describes the Nu-Ra relationship for evolving mobile lid systems, and β ~0.12 for stagnant-lid systems. Systems with time dependent subduction have β varying between ~0.26 during the Hadean, when external factors such as impacts facilitate tectonics, to ~0.12 during the Archaean, when the system is dominated by long periods of quiescence, and systems driven by external forcings (eg. due to impacts in the first 100Myr of Earth's history) may exhibit much higher exponents. We also find a time-lag between Ra (which primarily depends on mantle temperature) and Nu (normalised surface heat flow) of around 200–300Myr, suggesting a significant delay between mantle thermal configuration, and its surface manifestation. These results provide an approach for the rapid characterisation of tectonic, volcanic, and atmospheric evolution of terrestrial exoplanets.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number105059
    Pages (from-to)1-8
    Number of pages8
    JournalPlanetary and Space Science
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


    • Tectonic transitions
    • Thermal evolution
    • Mantle convection


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