** Progress in Earth and Planetary Science is the official journal of the Japan Geoscience Union, published in collaboration with its 50 society members.

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    • Progress in Earth and Planetary Science
    • Progress in Earth and Planetary Science
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    • Progress in Earth and Planetary Science
    Progress in Earth and Planetary Science

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    Space and planetary sciences


    Hadean/Eoarchean tectonics and mantle mixing induced by impacts: a three-dimensional study

    Xavier Borgeat, Paul J. Tackley

    Initiation of plate tectonics, Hadean and Eoarchean tectonics, Late heavy bombardment, Mixing of impactor material, Three-dimensional

    The timing of the onset of plate tectonics on Earth remains a topic of strong debate, as does the tectonic mode that preceded modern plate tectonics. Understanding possible tectonic modes and transitions between them is also important for other terrestrial planets such as Venus and rocky exoplanets. Recent two-dimensional modelling studies have demonstrated that impacts can initiate subduction during the early stages of terrestrial planet evolution—the Hadean and Eoarchean in Earth’s case. Here, we perform three-dimensional simulations of the influence of ongoing multiple impacts on early Earth tectonics and its effect on the distribution of compositional heterogeneity in the mantle, including the distribution of impactor material (both silicate and metallic). We compare two-dimensional and three-dimensional simulations to determine when geometry is important. Results show that impacts can induce subduction in both 2-D and 3-D and thus have a great influence on the global tectonic regime. The effect is particularly strong in cases that otherwise display stagnant-lid tectonics: impacts can shift them to having a plate-like regime. In such cases, however, plate-like behaviour is temporary: as the impactor flux decreases the system returns to what it was without impacts. Impacts result in both greater production of oceanic crust and greater recycling of it, increasing the build-up of subducted crust above the core-mantle boundary and in the transition zone. Impactor material is mainly located in the upper mantle, at least at the end of the modelled 500-million-year period. In 2-D simulations, in contrast to 3-D simulations, impacts are less frequent but each has a larger effect on surface mobility, making the simulations more stochastic. These stronger 2-D subduction events can mix both recycled basalt and impactor material into the lower mantle. These results thus demonstrate that impacts can make a first-order difference to the early tectonics and mantle mixing of Earth and other large terrestrial planets, and that three-dimensional simulations are important to obtain less stochastic results, and also to not over- or under-predict the amount of impactor material mixed into the mantle and the time during which a specific tectonic regime acts.