The subduction of the cold oceanic lithosphere into the deep mantle is a primary mechanism for the transport of heat from the interior of the Earth to its surface. Hot mantle rock comes to the surface at accretional plate boundaries (ocean ridges) and is cooled by heat loss to the seafloor. The result is a cold thermal “boundary layer,” the oceanic lithosphere. The thermal structure of this boundary layer was determined in Sections 4–16 and 4–17.
The cold subducted lithosphere is gradually heated and eventually becomes part of the convecting mantle. Upward convective heat transfer through the mantle involves the sinking of cold thermal anomalies (descending lithosphere at ocean trenches) and the rising of hot thermal anomalies (mantle
plumes). The density differences associated with the lateral temperature variations provide the driving force for the mantle convective circulation.
In this section we discuss the temperature distribution in the subducted oceanic lithosphere.
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