How subduction broke up Pangaea with implications for the supercontinent cycle
Published:January 01, 2016
Fraser Keppie, 2016. "How subduction broke up Pangaea with implications for the supercontinent cycle", Supercontinent Cycles Through Earth History, Z. X. Li, D. A. D. Evans, J. B. Murphy
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Mechanisms that can explain the Mesozoic motion of Pangaea in a palaeomagnetic mantle reference frame may also be able to explain its breakup. Calculations indicate that Pangaea moved along a non-rigid path in the mantle frame between the late Triassic and early Jurassic. The breakup of Pangaea may have happened as a response to this non-rigid motion. Tectonic forces applied to the margins of Pangaea as a consequence of subduction at its peripheries can explain both the motion and deformation of Pangaea with a single mechanism. In contrast, mantle forces applied to the base of Pangaea appear to be inconsistent with the kinematic constraints and do not explain the change in supercontinent motion that accompanied the breakup event. Top-down plate tectonics are inferred to have caused the breakup of Pangaea. Strong coupling between the mantle and lithosphere may not have been the case during the Phanerozoic eon when the Pangaean supercontinent formed and subsequently dispersed.
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Supercontinent Cycles Through Earth History
The supercontinent-cycle hypothesis attributes planetary-scale episodic tectonic events to an intrinsic self-organizing mode of mantle convection, governed by the buoyancy of continental lithosphere that resists subduction during the closure of old ocean basins, and the consequent reorganization of mantle convection cells leading to the opening of new ocean basins. Characteristic timescales of the cycle are typically 500 to 700 million years. Proposed spatial patterns of cyclicity range from hemispheric (introversion) to antipodal (extroversion), to precisely between those end members (orthoversion). Advances in our understanding can arise from theoretical or numerical modelling, primary data acquisition relevant to continental reconstructions, and spatiotemporal correlations between plate kinematics, geodynamic events and palaeoenvironmental history. The palaeogeographic record of supercontinental tectonics on Earth is still under development. The contributions in this Special Publication provide snapshots in time of these investigations and indicate that Earth’s palaeogeographic record incorporates elements of all three end-member spatial patterns.