Estimates of heat flow from Cenozoic seafloor using global depth and age data

Wei, M, Sandwell D.  2006.  Estimates of heat flow from Cenozoic seafloor using global depth and age data. Tectonophysics. 417:325-335.

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chemistry, constraints, flux, forsterite, global heat budget, hydrothermal circulation, lithosphere, mid-ocean ridge, oceanic heat flow, pacific, subsidence rate, thermal structure, topography


The total heat output of the Earth constrains models of mantle and core dynamics. Previously published estimates (42-44 TW) have recently been questioned because the measured conductive heat flow on young oceanic lithosphere is about a factor of 2 less than the expected heat flow based on half-space cooling models. Taking the conductive ocean heat flow values at face value reduces the global heat flow from 44 to 31 TW, which has major implications for geodynamics and Earth history. To help resolve this issue, we develop a new method of estimating total oceanic heat flow from depth and age data. The overall elevation of the global ridge system, relative to the deep ocean basins, provides an independent estimate of the total heat content of the lithosphere. Heat flow is proportional to the measured subsidence rate times the heat capacity divided by the thermal expansion coefficient. The largest uncertainty in this method is due to uncertainties in the thermal expansion coefficient and heat capacity. Scalar subsidence rate is computed from gradients of depth and age grids. The method cannot be applied over very young seafloor (< 3 Ma) where age gradient is discontinuous and the assumption of isostasy is invalid. Between 3 and 66 Ma, the new estimates are in agreement with half-space cooling model. Our rnodel-independent estimate of the total heat output of Cenozoic seafloor is 18.6 to 20.5 TW, which leads to a global output of 42 to 44 TW in agreement with previous studies. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.