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Modulation of mantle plumes and heat flow at the core-mantle boundary by plate-scale flow; results from laboratory experiments

Modulation of mantle plumes and heat flow at the core-mantle boundary by plate-scale flow; results from laboratory experiments

Earth and Planetary Science Letters 226(1-2): 53-67

ISSN/ISBN: 0012-821X

DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2004.07.021

We report results from analog laboratory experiments, in which a large-scale flow is imposed upon natural convection from a hot boundary layer at the base of a large tank of corn syrup. The experiments show that the subdivision of the convective flow into four regions provides a reasonable conceptual framework for interpreting the effects of large-scale flow on plumes. Region I includes the area of the hot thermal boundary layer (TBL) that is thinned by the large-scale flow, thereby suppressing plumes. Region II encompasses the critically unstable boundary layer where plumes form. Region III is the area above the boundary layer that is devoid of plumes. Region IV comprises the area of hot upwelling and plume conduits. Quantitative analysis of our experiments results in a scaling law for heat flux from the hot boundary and for the spatial extent of plume suppression. When applied to the Earth's core-mantle boundary (CMB), our results suggest that large-scale mantle flow, due to sinking lithospheric plates, can locally thin the TBL and suppress plume formation over large fractions of the CMB. Approximately 30% of heat flow from the core may be due to increased heat flux from plate-scale flow. Furthermore, CMB heat flux is non-uniformly distributed along the CMB, with large areas where heat flux is increased on average by a factor of 2. As a consequence, the convective flow pattern in the outer core may be affected by CMB heat-flux heterogeneity and sensitive to changes in plate-scale mantle flow. Because of plume suppression and 'focusing' of hot mantle from the CMB into zones of upwelling flow, plume conduits (hotspots) are expected to be spatially associated with lower-mantle regions of low seismic velocities, inferred as hot upwelling mantle flow.

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Accession: 019469180

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