Assessing the Role of Water in Alaskan Flat-Slab Subduction

Sarah E. Petersen, Thomas D. Hoisch, Ryan C. Porter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Low-angle subduction has been shown to have a profound impact on subduction processes. However, the mechanisms that initiate, drive, and sustain flat-slab subduction are debated. Within all subduction zone systems, metamorphic dehydration reactions within the down-going slab have been hypothesized to produce seismicity, and to produce water that fluxes melting of the asthenospheric wedge leading to arc magmatism. In this work, we examine the role hydration plays in influencing slab buoyancy and the geometry of the downgoing oceanic plate. When water is introduced to the oceanic lithosphere, it is incorporated into hydrous phases, which results in lowered rock densities. The net effect of this process is an increase in the buoyancy of the downgoing oceanic lithosphere. To better understand the role of water in low-angle subduction settings, we model flat-slab subduction in Alaska, where the thickened oceanic lithosphere of the Yakutat oceanic plateau is subducting beneath the continental lithosphere. In this work, we calculate the thermal conditions and stable mineral assemblages in the slab crust and mantle in order to assess the role that water plays in altering the density of the subducting slab. Our slab density results show that a moderate amount of hydration (1–1.5 wt% H2O) in the subducting crust and upper lithospheric mantle reduces slab density by 0.5%–0.8% relative to an anhydrous slab, and is sufficient to maintain slab buoyancy to 300–400 km from the trench. These models show that water is a viable factor in influencing the subduction geometry in Alaska, and is likely important globally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021GC009734
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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