High-resolution Simulations of Subduction Along the Pacific Rim of Fire

Tectonic setting of the Pacific Rim of Fire.

Tectonic setting of the Pacific Rim of Fire (modified from Jadamec et al., 2018, with data references therein).

Student RAs

Vivek Bhavsar (ICDS), Isabelle Li (Geology), Kyle Schmitt (Geology), Bailey Valint (Geology)


Quantifying plate boundary dynamics, and the dynamics of subduction zones in particular, are critical to understanding plate tectonics and to providing an accurate tectonic framework for the forces governing the distribution of arc volcanism, the world’s greatest earthquakes, and large-scale mountain building. However, accurately characterizing the dynamics of subducted oceanic lithosphere, as well as how the subducted plates perturb the surrounding mantle into which they descend, remains a challenge due to the inaccessibility of the Earth’s interior. This proposal leverages data-driven model design, high performance computing, and three-dimensional (3D) virtual reality to construct unprecedented high-resolution 3D models of the Pacific Rim of Fire. The 3D numerical simulations of the Pacific Rim of Fire will investigate a new class of volcanoes that occur at the edges of subduction zones, rather than typical arc volcanoes located above the subducted plate. In addition, the numerical simulations will examine the dimensions of slab-driven mantle flow, addressing outstanding questions of coupling between the tectonic plates and the Earth’s mantle.

As an educational component of this CAREER grant, a series of online learning models will be developed for a graduate course in High Performance Computing and a series of flipped classroom modules will be developed for an undergraduate course in Structural Geology/Global Tectonics. These modules will leverage data-driven paradigms and 3D virtual reality to facilitate active learning. In terms of broader impacts, the PI will collaborate with the Space Visualization Lab at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, IL to develop 3D visualizations of subduction along the Pacific Rim of Fire.

Funding Source

National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award