Boonma, K., Kumar, A., Garcia-Castellanos, D. et al. Lithospheric mantle buoyancy: the role of tectonic convergence and mantle composition. Scientific Reports 9, 17953 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41598-019-54374-w
Plate subduction and delamination, two key processes driving plate tectonics, are thought to be controlled by the buoyancy of the lithospheric mantle relative to the underlying asthenosphere. Most mantle delamination models consider a lithospheric density higher than the asthenosphere to ensure negative buoyancy (slab pull). However, mineral physics show that the continental lithospheric mantle density is lighter than the asthenosphere, and that only its pressure-temperature-composition dependence makes it become denser and unstable when sinking adiabatically. Here, we explore the controls on buoyancy using a 2D thermal-diffusive model of plate convergence, considering five chemical compositions and tectonothermal ages, namely Archon (>2.5 Ga), Proton (2.5–1.0 Ga), Tecton ((<1.0 Ga),)and two oceanic lithospheric plates of 30 Ma and 120 Ma. While the advection of colder rock in oceanic-like plates always results in negative buoyancy, Protons and Tectons exhibit an ability to slowly flip from negative to positive buoyancy at low convergence rates: they first favour the sinking due to advection and then become more buoyant because they are thinner and heat up faster during subduction. In contrast, the lighter density of cratons overprints this effect and hinders delamination or subduction, regardless of the convergence rate. This may explain why Archons are more stable during the Wilson cycle.