TERRAPUB Monographs on Environment, Earth and Planets


Monogr. Environ. Earth Planets, Vol. 5 (No. 2), pp. 35-62, 2017 doi:10.5047/meep.2017.00502.0035 ISSN: 2186-4853

Geodynamic Modeling of the Subduction Zone around the Japanese Islands

Satoru Honda

Earthquake Research Institute, the University of Tokyo, 1-1-1 Yayoi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0032, Japan

(Received May 30, 2016; Revised October 20, 2016; Accepted November 16, 2016; Online published June 23, 2017)

Citation: Honda, S. (2017), Geodynamic modeling of the subduction zone around the Japanese Islands, Monogr. Environ. Earth Planets, 5, 35–62, doi:10.5047/meep.2017.00502.0035.

Abstract: In this review, which focuses on our research, we describe the development of the thermomechanical modeling of subduction zones, paying special attention to those around the Japanese Islands. Without a sufficient amount of data and observations, models tended to be conceptual and general. However, the increasing power of computational tools has resulted in simple analytical and numerical models becoming more realistic, by incorporating the mantle flow around the subducting slab. The accumulation of observations and data has made it possible to construct regional models to understand the detail of the subduction processes. Recent advancements in the study of the seismic tomography and geology around the Japanese Islands has enabled new aspects of modeling the mantle processes. A good correlation between the seismic velocity anomalies and the finger-like distribution of volcanoes in northeast Japan has been recognized and small-scale convection (SSC) in the mantle wedge has been proposed to explain such a feature. The spatial and temporal evolution of the distribution of past volcanoes may reflect the characteristics of the flow in the mantle wedge, and points to the possibility of the flip-flopping of the finger-like pattern of the volcano distribution and the migration of volcanic activity from the back-arc side to the trench side. These observations are found to be qualitatively consistent with the results of the SSC model. We have also investigated the expected seismic anisotropy in the presence of SSC. The fast direction of the P-wave anisotropy generally shows the trench-normal direction with a reduced magnitude compared to the case without SSC. An analysis of full 3D seismic anisotropy is necessary to confirm the existence and nature of SSC. The 3D mantle flow around the subduction zone of plate-size scale has been modeled. It was found that the trench-parallel flow in the sub-slab mantle around the northern edge of the Pacific plate at the junction between the Aleutian arc and the Kurile arc is generally weak and we have suggested the possible contribution of a hot anomaly in the sub-slab mantle as the origin of possible trench-parallel flow there. A 3D mantle flow model of the back-arc around the junction between the northeast Japan arc and the Kurile arc shows a trench-normal flow at a shallow depth. As a result, the expected seismic anisotropy shows the fast direction normal to the arc, even in the region of oblique subduction. This result is generally consistent with observations there. The existence of a hot anomaly in the sub-slab mantle under the Pacific plate was proposed from an analysis of the seismic tomography, and we have studied its possible origins. The origin of a hot anomaly adjacent to the cold downgoing flow, typically observed in internally heated convection, is preferable to that of a hot anomaly, such as a plume head, carried far from the subduction zone. The nature of the western edge of the stagnant slab under northeast China has been investigated with modeling studies, which take into account the subduction history and the phase changes in the mantle. It is likely to be a ridge-type plate boundary between the extinct Izanagi plate and the Pacific plate. Thus, we have concluded that the slab gap under northeast China is not a breakage of the stagnant slab. Further studies have suggested that the existence of the rheological weakening of the slab in the transition zone, and the additional effects of a hot anomaly in the sub-slab mantle under the Pacific plate, may explain the differences in slab morphology under the northern Okhotsk arc and the northeast Japan arc.

Keywords: Subduction zone, Seismic tomography, Stagnant slab, Small-scale convection, Izanagi plate.

Corresponding author e-mail: honda@eri.u-tokyo.ac.jp


[Full text] (PDF 19.3 MB)