The making and breaking of supercontinents: Some speculations based on superplumes, super downwelling and the role of tectosphere

M. Santosh, Shigenori Maruyama, Shinji Yamamoto

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    379 Citations (Scopus)


    The mechanisms of formation and disruption of supercontinents have been topics of debate. Based on the Y-shaped topology, we identify two major types of subduction zones on the globe: the Circum-Pacific subduction zone and the Tethyan subduction zone. We propose that the process of formation of supercontinents is controlled by super downwelling that develops through double-sided subduction zones as seen in the present day western Pacific, and also as endorsed by both geologic history and P-wave whole mantle tomography. The super-downwelling swallows all material like a black hole in the outer space, pulling together continents into a tight assembly. The fate of supercontinents is dictated by superplumes (super-upwelling) which break apart the continental assemblies. We evaluate the configuration of major supercontinents through Earth history and propose the tectonic framework leading to the future supercontinent Amasia 250 million years from present, with the present day Western Pacific region as its frontier. We propose that the tectosphere which functions as the buoyant keel of continental crust plays a crucial role in the supercontinental cycle, including continental fragmentation, dispersion and amalgamation. The continental crust is generally very thin, only about one tenth of the thickness of the tectosphere. If the rigidity and buoyancy is derived from the tectosphere, with the granitic upper crust playing only a negligible role, then supercontinent cycle may reflect the dispersion and amalgamation of the tectosphere. Therefore, supercontinent cycle may correspond to super-tectosphere cycle.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)324-341
    Number of pages18
    JournalGondwana Research
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


    • Plate tectonics
    • Super downwelling
    • Supercontinent
    • Superplume
    • Tectosphere

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geology


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