Spakman & van Hinsbergen's Lab

Featured projects (1)

From 2012-2018 I ran an ERC Starting Grant and NWO Vidi-grant funded project on subduction initiation, with PhD students, Post-docs, and international colleagues. Research continued after that!

Featured research (9)

The dynamics of slab detachment and associated geological fingerprints are inferred from numerical and analogue models that use a setup with slab-pull-driven convergence in which a slab detaches following the arrest of convergence following continent arrival in a mantle-stationary trench. In contrast, geological reconstructions show that post-detachment plate convergence is common, and that trenches and sutures are rarely mantle-stationary. Here, we identify the more realistic kinematic context of slab detachment using the example of the India-Asia convergent system. We first show that only the India and Himalayas slabs (from India’s northern margin) and the Carlsberg slab (from the western margin) unequivocally detached from Indian lithosphere. Slabs below the Indian Ocean must host Mesotethys and Paleotethys lithosphere and do not require a Neotethyan origin. Additionally, still-connected slabs are being dragged together with the Indian plate forward (Hindu Kush) or sideways (Burma, Chaman) through the mantle. We show that Indian slab detachment occurred at moving trenches stationary during ongoing plate convergence, providing more realistic geodynamic conditions for use in future numerical and analogue experiments. We identify that the actively detaching Hindu Kush slab is a type-example of this setting, whilst a 25-13 Ma phase of shallow detachment of the Himalayas slab that we reconstruct from plate kinematics and tomography agrees well with independent, published geological estimates from the Himalayas orogen of slab detachment. The Eocene Sulaiman Ranges of Pakistan may hold the geological signatures of detachment of the laterally dragged Carlsberg slab.
Geodetically estimated surface motions contain contributions to crustal deformation from coupled geodynamic processes active at all spatial scales and constitute key data for lithosphere dynamics research. Data interpretation methods should therefore account for the full range of possible processes, otherwise risking misinterpretation of data signal and incorrect estimation of lithosphere rheology, stress, or deformation fields. Here we explore the sensitivity of surface deformation to sub-lithospheric processes such as viscous plate-mantle and slab-mantle coupling, variations in slab pull, and buoyancy-driven mantle flow. To this end, we perform 3D instantaneous-dynamics numerical modelling of an elaborately structured compressible crust-mantle system designed for the Eastern Mediterranean Aegean-Anatolian region. We first determine a reference model driven by the absolute motions of the major plates, regional slab pull, a 3D mantle buoyancy field, and modulated by plate boundary coupling and mantle viscosity. The RMS motion data fit of ~5.9 mm/yr of predicted and observed Aegean-Anatolian horizontal surface motions demonstrates that the bulk amplitude of surface motion can be explained by these combined mantle processes. Next, by systematically perturbing reference model features, we assess the crustal sensitivity to each geodynamic driver and to mantle rheology. We find significant changes in crustal velocity gradient amplitudes, often between 10% and 40% of the reference model, with slab morphology effects of up to 93%. This demonstrates the key importance of carefully accounting for each process in modelling lithosphere dynamics. For the Aegean-Anatolia region, we present geodynamic evidence that the Aegean slab pull is the primary driver of the crustal motion field, as was previously suggested from kinematic analysis.
The Panthalassa Ocean, which surrounded the late Paleozoic-early Mesozoic Pangea supercontinent, was underlain by multiple tectonic plates that have since been lost to subduction. In this study, we develop an approach to reconstruct plate motions of this subducted lithosphere utilizing paleomagnetic data from accreted Ocean Plate Stratigraphy (OPS). We first establish the boundaries of the Panthalassa domain by using available Indo-Atlantic plate reconstructions and restorations of complex plate boundary deformation at circum-Panthalassa trenches. We reconstruct the Pacific Plate and its conjugates, the Farallon, Phoenix, and Izanagi plates, back to 190 Ma using marine magnetic anomaly records of the modern Pacific. Then, we present new and review published paleomagnetic data from OPS exposed in the accretionary complexes of Cedros Island (Mexico), the Santa Elena Peninsula (Costa Rica), the North Island of New Zealand, and Japan. These data provide paleolatitudinal plate motion components of the Farallon, Phoenix and Izanagi plates, and constrain the trajectories of these plates from their spreading ridges towards the trenches in which they subducted. For 83 to 150 Ma, we use two independent mantle frames to connect the Panthalassa plate system to the Indo-Atlantic plate system and test the feasibility of this approach with the paleomagnetic data. For times prior to 150 Ma, and as far back as Permian time, we reconstruct relative and absolute Panthalassa plate motions such that divergence is maintained between the Izanagi, Farallon and Phoenix plates, convergence is maintained with Pangean continental margins in Japan, Mexico and New Zealand, and paleomagnetic constraints are met. The reconstruction approach developed here enables data-based reconstruction of oceanic plates and plate boundaries in the absence of marine magnetic anomaly data or mantle reference frames, using Ocean Plate Stratigraphy, paleomagnetism, and constraints on the nature of circum-oceanic plate boundaries. Such an approach is a crucial next step towards quantitative reconstruction of the currently largely unknown tectonic evolution of the Earth's oceanic domains in deep geological time.
The formation of a global network of plate boundaries surrounding a mosaic of lithospheric fragments was a key step in the emergence of Earth’s plate tectonics. So far, propositions for plate boundary formation are regional in nature but how plate boundaries are being created over 1000s of km in short periods of geological time remains elusive. Here, we show from geological observations that a >12,000 km long plate boundary formed between the Indian and African plates around 105 Ma with subduction segments from the eastern Mediterranean region to a newly established India-Africa rotation pole in the west-Indian ocean where it transitioned into a ridge between India and Madagascar. We find no plate tectonics-related potential triggers of this plate rotation and identify coeval mantle plume rise below Madagascar-India as the only viable driver. For this, we provide a proof of concept by torque balance modeling revealing that the Indian and African cratonic keels were important in determining plate rotation and subduction initiation in response to the spreading plume head. Our results show that plumes may provide a non-plate-tectonic mechanism for large plate rotation initiating divergent and convergent plate boundaries far away from the plume head that may even be an underlying cause of the emergence of modern plate tectonics.

Lab head

W. Spakman
  • Department of Earth Sciences

Members (18)

Douwe van Hinsbergen
  • Utrecht University
Reinoud L M Vissers
  • Utrecht University
Marco Maffione
  • University of Birmingham
Arie van den Berg
  • Utrecht University
Lydian M. Boschman
  • Utrecht University
Derya Gürer
  • Australian National University
Anne Glerum
  • Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ
Eldert Lieven Advokaat
  • Utrecht University
Maria V. Chertova
Maria V. Chertova
  • Not confirmed yet