How weak is the subduction zone interface?

João C. Duarte*, Wouter P. Schellart, Alexander R. Cruden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Several lines of evidence suggest that subduction zones are weak and that the unique availability of water on Earth is a critical factor in the weakening process. We have evaluated the strength of subduction zone interfaces using two approaches: (i) from empirical relationships between shear stress at the interface and subduction velocity, deduced from laboratory experiments; and (ii) from a parametric study of natural subduction zones that provides new insights on subduction zone interface strength. Our results suggest that subduction is only mechanically feasible when shear stresses along the plate interface are relatively low (less than ∼35 MPa). To account for this requirement, we propose that there is a feedback mechanism between subduction velocity, water released from the subducting plate, and weakening of the fore-arc mantle that may explain how relatively low shear stresses are maintained at subduction interfaces globally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2664-2673
Number of pages10
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2015


  • analog modeling
  • subduction interface
  • subduction zones


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