Ripple Tectonics—When Subduction Is Interrupted

Uri Schattner, Emanuele Lodolo, Gerald Schubert, Zvi Ben-Avraham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Subduction plays a fundamental role in plate tectonics and is a significant factor in modifying the structure and topography of the Earth. It is driven by convection forces that change over a >100 Myr time scale. However, when an oceanic plateau approaches, it plugs the subduction, and causes slab necking and tearing. This abrupt change may trigger a series of geodynamic (tectonic, volcanic) and sedimentary responses recorded across the convergence boundary and its surrounding regions by synchronous structural modifications. We suggest that a large enough triggering event may lead to a ripple tectonic effect that propagates outwards while speeding up the yielding of localized stress states that otherwise would not reach their threshold. The ripple effect facilitates tectonic, volcanic, and structural events worldwide that are seemingly unrelated. When the world’s largest oceanic plateau, Ontong Java Plateau (OJP), choked the Pacific-Australian convergence zone at ~6 Myr ago, it induced kinematic modifications throughout the Pacific region and along its plate margins. Other, seemingly unrelated, short-lived modifications were recorded worldwide during that time window. These modifications changed the rotation of the entire Pacific plate, which occupies ~20% of the Earth’s surface. In addition, the Scotia Sea spreading stopped, global volcanism increased, the Strait of Gibraltar closed, and the Mediterranean Sea dried up and induced the Messinian salinity crisis. In this paper, we attribute these and many other synchronous events to a new “ripple tectonics” mechanism. We suggest that the OJPincipient collision triggered the Miocene-Pliocene transition. Similarly, we suggest that innovative GPS-based studies conducted today may seek the connectivity between tectonic, seismic, and volcanic events worldwide.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Research Publishing
StatePublished - 2020


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