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Plate tectonics as a far-from-equilibrium, self-organized system

Mantle convection is usually treated as a far-from-equilibrium self-organized system (SOFFE). Ilya Prigogine used thermal convection as the  poster-child of self-organization. But if the top of the fluid contains plates, continents and sources of dissipation – plate bending, cracking, buckling and folding – to replace viscosity, then the top, rather than the interior, may be the self-organized system and may control and organize mantle convection.

Very few mantle convection simulations allow for the necessary degrees of freedom, allowing the top and the plates to self-organize, and the self-organizing principle is not known (is it maximum dissipation, maximum entropy production, or what?). Consider also Marangoni convection, a related, top-down form of convection, that mimics thermal convection, e.g. Rayleigh-Benard convection.

This is a fertile field for research but has so far gone largely untapped in the mantle convection and geodynamic communities.

Don L. Anderson


Fractured Earth

Best student work
Findlay Craig,
University of Aberdeen, U.K.

James W. Sears

Truncated-icosahedral breakup of Laurasia and Gondwana and anorogenic magmatism

James W. Sears, Gregory M. St. George & J. Chris Winne

Useful links

Self-Organization & Entropy - The Terrible Twins, by Chris Lucas


last updated 11th January, 2009