The dynamical control of subduction parameters on surface topography
The long-wavelength surface deflection of Earth's outermost rocky shell is mainly controlled by large-scale dynamic processes like isostasy or mantle flow. The largest topographic amplitudes are therefore observed at plate boundaries due to the presence of large thermal heterogeneities and strong tectonic forces. Distinct vertical surface deflections are particularly apparent at convergent plate boundaries mostly due to the convergence and asymmetric sinking of the plates. Having a mantle convection model with a free surface that is able to reproduce both realistic single-sided subduction and long-wavelength surface topography self-consistently, we are now able to better investigate this interaction. We separate the topographic signal into distinct features and quantify the individual topographic contribution of several controlling subduction parameters. Results are diagnosed by splitting the topographic signal into isostatic and residual components, and by considering various physical aspects like viscous dissipation during plate bending. Performing several systematic suites of experiments, we are then able to quantify the topographic impact of the buoyancy, rheology, and geometry of the subduction-zone system to each and every topographic feature at a subduction zone and to provide corresponding scaling laws. We identify slab dip and, slightly less importantly, slab buoyancy as the major agents controlling surface topography at subduction zones on Earth. Only the island-arc high and the back-arc depression extent are mainly controlled by plate strength. Overall, his modeling study sets the basis to better constrain deep-seated mantle structures and their physical properties via the observed surface topography on present-day Earth and back through time.