Evolution and demise of passive margins through grain mixing and damage

David Bercovici*, Elvira Mulyukova

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


How subduction—the sinking of cold lithospheric plates into the mantle—is initiated is one of the key mysteries in understanding why Earth has plate tectonics. One of the favored locations for subduction triggering is at passive margins, where sea floor abuts continental margins. Such passive margin collapse is problematic because the strength of the old, cold ocean lithosphere should prohibit it from bending under its own weight and sinking into the mantle. Some means of mechanical weakening of the passive margin are therefore necessary. Spontaneous and accumulated grain damage can allow for considerable lithospheric weakening and facilitate passive margin collapse. Grain damage is enhanced where mixing between mineral phases in lithospheric rocks occurs. Such mixing is driven both by compositional gradients associated with petrological heterogeneity and by the state of stress in the lithosphere. With lateral compressive stress imposed by ridge push in an opening ocean basin, bands of mixing and weakening can develop, become vertically oriented, and occupy a large portion of lithosphere after about 100 million y. These bands lead to anisotropic viscosity in the lithosphere that is strong to lateral forcing but weak to bending and sinking, thereby greatly facilitating passive margin collapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2011247118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 26 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Grain damage
  • Passive margins
  • Subduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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