A record of plume-induced plate rotation triggering subduction initiation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Douwe van Hinsbergen
  • Bernhard Steinberger
  • Carl Guilmette
  • Derya Gürer
  • Kalijn Peters
  • Alexis Plunder
  • Peter J. McPhee
  • Carmen Gaina
  • Reinoud L.M. Vissers
  • Wim Spakman

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Utrecht University


The formation of a global network of plate boundaries surrounding a mosaic of lithospheric fragments was a key step in the emergence of Earth’s plate tectonics. So far, propositions for plate boundary formation are regional in nature; how plate boundaries are created over thousands of kilometres in geologically short periods remains elusive. Here we show from geological observations that a >12,000-km-long plate boundary formed between the Indian and African plates around 105 Myr ago. This boundary comprised subduction segments from the eastern Mediterranean region to a newly established India–Africa rotation pole in the west Indian Ocean, where it transitioned into a ridge between India and Madagascar. We identify coeval mantle plume rise below Madagascar–India as the only viable trigger of this plate rotation. For this, we provide a proof of concept by torque balance modelling, which reveals that the Indian and African cratonic keels were important in determining plate rotation and subduction initiation in response to the spreading plume head. Our results show that plumes may provide a non-plate-tectonic mechanism for large-plate rotation, initiating divergent and convergent plate boundaries far away from the plume head. We suggest that this mechanism may be an underlying cause of the emergence of modern plate tectonics.


Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Geoscience
Early online date8 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Jul 2021