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ISSN  2096-3955

CN  10-1502/P

Citation: Lu, G., Zhao, L., Chen, L., Wan, B. and Wu, F. Y. (2021). Reviewing subduction initiation and the origin of plate tectonics: What do we learn from present-day Earth?. Earth Planet. Phys., 5(2), 123–140.

2021, 5(2): 123-140. doi: 10.26464/epp2021014


Reviewing subduction initiation and the origin of plate tectonics: What do we learn from present-day Earth?

State Key Laboratory of Lithospheric Evolution, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100029, China

Corresponding author: Gang Lu,

Received Date: 2020-10-18
Web Publishing Date: 2021-01-27

The theory of plate tectonics came together in the 1960s, achieving wide acceptance after 1968. Since then it has been the most successful framework for investigations of Earth’s evolution. Subduction of the oceanic lithosphere, as the engine that drives plate tectonics, has played a key role in the theory. However, one of the biggest unanswered questions in Earth science is how the first subduction was initiated, and hence how plate tectonics began. The main challenge is how the strong lithosphere could break and bend if plate tectonics-related weakness and slab-pull force were both absent. In this work we review state-of-the-art subduction initiation (SI) models with a focus on their prerequisites and related driving mechanisms. We note that the plume-lithosphere-interaction and mantle-convection models do not rely on the operation of existing plate tectonics and thus may be capable of explaining the first SI. Re-investigation of plate-driving mechanisms reveals that mantle drag may be the missing driving force for surface plates, capable of triggering initiation of the first subduction. We propose a composite driving mechanism, suggesting that plate tectonics may be driven by both subducting slabs and convection currents in the mantle. We also discuss and try to answer the following question: Why has plate tectonics been observed only on Earth?

Key words: subduction initiation, plate tectonics, mantle convection, driving force, mantle drag

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