Slab buckling as a driver for rapid oscillations in Indian plate motion and subduction rate

Erik van der Wiel*, Jakub Pokorný, Hana Čížková, Wim Spakman, Arie P. van den Berg, Douwe J. J. van Hinsbergen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Plate tectonics is primarily driven by the constant gravitational pull of slabs where oceanic lithosphere sinks into the mantle at subduction zones. Under stable plate boundary configurations, changes in plate motion are then thought to occur gradually. Surprisingly, recent high-resolution Indian plate reconstructions revealed rapid (2–3 Million-year) plate velocity oscillations of ±50 %. We show, through numerical experiments, that the buckling of slabs in the mantle transition zone causes such oscillations. This buckling results from the deceleration of slabs as they sink into the lower mantle. The amplitude and period of buckling-associated oscillations depend on average subduction velocity and the available space in the mantle transition zone. The oscillations also affect the upper plate which may explain enigmatic observations of episodic deformation and fluid flow in subduction-related orogens. We infer that the slab pull that drives plate tectonics is generated in just the top few hundred kilometers of the mantle.
Original languageEnglish
Article number316
Number of pages11
JournalCommunications Earth & Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2024


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