Mineral grain size plays an important role in controlling many processes in the mantle wedge of subduction zones, including mantle flow and fluid migration. To investigate the grain-size distribution in the mantle wedge, we coupled a two-dimensional (2-D) steady state finite element thermal and mantle-flow model with a laboratory-derived grain-size evolution model. In our coupled model, the mantle wedge has a composite olivine rheology that incorporates grain-size-dependent diffusion creep and grain-size-independent dislocation creep. Our results show that all subduction settings lead to a characteristic grain-size distribution, in which grain size increases from 10 to 100 μm at the most trenchward part of the creeping region to a few centimeters in the subarc mantle. Despite the large variation in grain size, its effect on the mantle rheology and flow is very small, as >90% of the deformation in the flowing part of the creeping region is accommodated by grain-size-independent dislocation creep. The predicted grain-size distribution leads to a downdip increase in permeability by ∼5 orders of magnitude. This increase is likely to promote greater upward migration of aqueous fluids and melts where the slab reaches ∼100 km depth compared with shallower depths, potentially providing an explanation for the relatively uniform subarc slab depth. Seismic attenuation derived from the predicted grain-size distribution and thermal field is consistent with the observed seismic structure in the mantle wedge at many subduction zones, without requiring a significant contribution by the presence of melt.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science