Continental magmatism, volatile recycling, and a heterogeneous mantle caused by lithospheric gravitational instabilities

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178 Scopus citations


Removal of the lower lithosphere (mantle lithosphere with or without portions of the crust) through ductile gravitational instabilities can produce magma under continents. Using numerical experiments approximating the rheology of continental crust and lithosphere and underlying asthenosphere and using phase equilibria from the literature, I investigate the topographic and magmatic results of lithospheric gravitational instabilities, along with the fate of the sinking material. Lithospheric removal, commonly referred to as delamination regardless of the mechanism, may allow asthenospheric material to rise and to melt adiabatically, and this asthenosphere can conductively heat portions of the lithosphere previously at lower temperatures. The size and rheology of the sinking material greatly influence the resulting surface topography as well as whether or not melting occurs. The sinking material may devolatilize as it reaches higher temperatures and pressures, just as a subducting slab does, triggering further melting. Gravitational instabilities are possible causes of nonmagmatic basins, continental magmatism of varying volume and composition in the absence of subduction, areas of high heat flow and uplift, and creation of an upper mantle heterogeneous in major and trace elements and volatiles. Magmatism can be simultaneous with topographic subsidence and possibly with subsequent uplift. In those cases that produce magma, melting can occur over a depth range from ∼30 to 200 km, though anomalously hot mantle is required to reach the volume of flood basalts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberB03405
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 4 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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