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This study explores a conceptual model for mantle convection in which buoyant and low-viscosity asthenosphere is present beneath the relatively thin lithosphere of ocean basins and regions of active continental deformation, but is less well developed beneath thicker-keeled continental cratons. We start by summarizing the concept of a buoyant plume-fed asthenosphere and the alternative implications this framework has for the roles of compositional and thermal lithosphere. We then describe the sinks of asthenosphere made by forming compositional lithosphere at ridges, by plate cooling wherever the thermal boundary layer extends beneath the compositional lithosphere, and by drag-down of buoyant asthenosphere along the sides of subducting slabs. We also review the implied origin of hotspot swell roots by melt-extraction from the hottest portions of upwelling plumes, analogous to the generation of compositional lithosphere by melt-extraction beneath a spreading center. The plume-fed asthenosphere hypothesis requires an alternative to “distinct source reservoirs” to explain the differing trace element and isotopic characteristics of ocean island basalt (OIB) and mid-ocean ridge basalt (MORB) sources; it does so by having the MORB source be the plum-depleted and buoyant asthenospheric leftovers from progressive melt-extraction within upwelling plumes, while the preferential melting and melt-extraction of more-enriched plum components is what makes OIB of a given hotspot typically fall within a tubelike geometric isotope topology characteristic of that hotspot. (The distinct plum components result from the subduction of chemically differing sediments, basalts, and residues to hotspot and mid-ocean ridge melt extraction.) Using this conceptual framework, we construct a thin-spherical-shell finite element model with a ∼100-km-scale mesh to explore the possible structure of global asthenosphere flow. Lubrication theory approximations are used to solve for the flow profile in the vertical direction. We assess the correlations between predicted flow and geophysical observations, and conclude by noting current limitations in the model and the reason why we currently neglect the influence of subcontinental plume upwelling for global asthenosphere flow.

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