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Convection in the earth's mantle: towards a numerical simulation

  • D. P. Mckenzie (a1), J. M. Roberts (a1) and N. O. Weiss (a2)

Plate tectonics provides a remarkably accurate kinematic description of the motion of the earth's crust but a fully dynamical theory requires an understanding of convection in the mantle. Thus the properties of plates and of the mantle must be related to a systematic study of convection. This paper reviews both the geophysical information and the fluid dynamics of convection in a Boussinesq fluid of infinite Prandtl number. Numerical experiments have been carried out on several simple two-dimensional models, in which convection is driven by imposed horizontal temperature gradients or else by heating either internally or from below. The results are presented and analysed in terms of simple physical models. Although the computations are highly idealized and omit variation of viscosity and other major features of mantle convection, they can be related to geophysical measurements. In particular, the external gravity field depends on changes in surface elevation; this suggests an observational means of investigating convection in the upper mantle.

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