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Subduction Initiation reconstructed from Neotethyan Kinematics (SINK): An iterative geological and numerical study of the driving forces behind plate tectonics (SINK)
Start date: Sep 1, 2012, End date: Aug 31, 2017 PROJECT  FINISHED 

"The concept of Plate Tectonics, as fundamentally unifying to Earth Sciences as Darwin’s Evolution Theory is to Life Sciences, mathematically describes the complex evolution of Earth’s outer shell in terms of lithosphere plates and their interactions. There is no widely accepted dynamic mechanism, however, that explains why plate tectonics developed and continues. Subduction of oceanic lithosphere into the mantle, compensated by spreading of new oceanic lithosphere elsewhere is a key element of plate tectonics. Half of the subduction zones active today formed in the Cenozoic, and subduction initiation must be a common and fundamental element of plate tectonics. Geophysical models demonstrate that forcing is required to initiate subduction at weakness zones. Mechanisms producing this forcing remain unexplored, but may include clogging of existing subduction zones with continental lithosphere, formation of high plateaus as a result of absolute plate motions and arrival of mantle plumes below plates.I aim to identify the mechanisms that force subduction initiation, using a novel and multidisciplinary approach. (1) I will design a Natural Laboratory, in which subduction initiation events, absolute and relative plate motions, continental subduction and mantle plumes are reconstructed. The Alpine-Himalayan mountain range that formed during closure of the Neotethyan Ocean is an ideal natural laboratory in which subduction initiation events and geological expressions of all potential driving mechanisms have been and will be reconstructed. (2) To test whether the reconstructed geological ‘incidents’ are causally related, a Numerical Laboratory will be designed, to conduct numerical modeling experiments based on fundamental geophysics. SINK will iteratively integrate the natural and numerical laboratories to advance our understanding of the processes that drive subduction initiation, as an essential step towards a dynamic and quantitative model to explain plate tectonics."
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