Magali Billen’s research group uses numerical simulations of visco-plastic flow to understand how Earth’s tectonic plates deform as they sink back into the mantle at subduction zones. The main goals of this research are to understand the forces driving and resisting the motion of tectonic plates at the earth’s surface and during deformation in the mantle. We utilize a variety of geological, geophysical, petrologic and geochemical observations as constraints on these simulations. We also use the findings of laboratory experiments on rock strength (viscosity) and phase transitions as input to the simulations. Our research has focused on a range of topics related to subduction dynamics including: upper mantle viscosity structure, effects of non-linear viscosity on mantle flow, outer-rise faulting, plate strength during bending, slab break-off, phase transitions, episodic plate and trench motion, oceanic plateau subduction, and arc rifting.
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