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Plate Tectonics as a Far-From-Equilibrium Self-Organized System Don L. Anderson

Summary: Plate Tectonics as a Far- From- Equilibrium Self-Organized System
Don L. Anderson
Word Count: 3,563
May 8, 2001
Contained fluids heated from below spontaneously organize into convection cells when
sufficiently far from conductive equilibrium. Fluids can also be organized by surface tension
and other forces at the top. Plate tectonics was once regarded as passive motion of plates on top
of mantle convection cells but it now appears that continents and plate tectonics organize the
flow in the mantle. The flow is driven by instability of the cold surface layer and near-surface
lateral temperature gradients. Plate tectonics may be a self-driven far-from-equilibrium system
that organizes itself by dissipation in and between the plates. In this case the mantle is a passive
provider of energy and material. The effect of pressure suppresses the role of the lower thermal
boundary layer. I suggest that the state of stress in the lithosphere defines the plates, plate
boundaries and locations of midplate volcanism, and that fluctuations in stress are responsible for
global plate reorganizations and evolution of volcanic chains.
The first order questions of mantle dynamics include;
1. Why does Earth have plate tectonics?


Source: Anderson, Don L. - Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology


Collections: Geosciences