Simple plate models of mantle convection

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F. Richter
D. McKenzie


A simple convective model that can maintain observed plate motions consists of a viscous upper mantle of uniform density overlain by denser rigid plates. In the absence of density differences within the upper mantle the viscous stresses exerted by the flow are easily obtained and demonstrate that the buoyancy forces associated with plate creation and destruction can maintain plate motions. A model having a uniform viscosity upper mantle is, however, unsatisfactory because it predicts gravity and residual depth anomalies two orders of magnitude larger than those observed. This problem can be overcome by introducing a thin low viscosity layer beneath the plates. The resulting model is then similar to that proposed by Forsyth and Uyeda and by Chapple and Tullis despite a very different approach. This agreement suggests that the energetics of plate motion are now understood in outline. The model cannot, however, account for the existence of the longwavelength gravity anomalies which are not associated with plate motions.

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Richter, F., & McKenzie, D. (1977). Simple plate models of mantle convection. Journal of Geophysics, 44(1), 441-471. Retrieved from


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