Dynamic topography

Dynamic topography

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The term dynamic topography is used in geodynamics
Geodynamics is a subfield of geophysics dealing with dynamics of the Earth. It applies physics, chemistry and mathematics to the understanding of how mantle convection leads to plate tectonics and geologic phenomena such as seafloor spreading, mountain building, volcanoes, earthquakes, faulting and...

 and oceanography
Oceanography , also called oceanology or marine science, is the branch of Earth science that studies the ocean...

 to refer to elevation differences caused by the flow within the Earth's mantle
Mantle (geology)
The mantle is a part of a terrestrial planet or other rocky body large enough to have differentiation by density. The interior of the Earth, similar to the other terrestrial planets, is chemically divided into layers. The mantle is a highly viscous layer between the crust and the outer core....

 and the ocean
An ocean is a major body of saline water, and a principal component of the hydrosphere. Approximately 71% of the Earth's surface is covered by ocean, a continuous body of water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas.More than half of this area is over 3,000...

Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

, respectively.


In geodynamics, dynamic topography refers to topography
Topography is the study of Earth's surface shape and features or those ofplanets, moons, and asteroids...

 generated by the motion of zones of differing degrees of buoyancy
In physics, buoyancy is a force exerted by a fluid that opposes an object's weight. In a column of fluid, pressure increases with depth as a result of the weight of the overlying fluid. Thus a column of fluid, or an object submerged in the fluid, experiences greater pressure at the bottom of the...

 (convection) in the Earth's mantle. It is also seen as the residual topography obtained by removing the isostatic
Isostasy is a term used in geology to refer to the state of gravitational equilibrium between the earth's lithosphere and asthenosphere such that the tectonic plates "float" at an elevation which depends on their thickness and density. This concept is invoked to explain how different topographic...

 contribution from the observed topography (i.e., the topography that cannot be explained by an isostatic equilibrium of the crust or the lithosphere resting on a fluid mantle) and all observed topography due to post-glacial rebound
Post-glacial rebound
Post-glacial rebound is the rise of land masses that were depressed by the huge weight of ice sheets during the last glacial period, through a process known as isostasy...

. Elevation differences due to dynamic topography are frequently on the order of a few hundred meters to a couple of kilometers. Large scale surface features due to dynamic topography are mid-ocean ridge
Mid-ocean ridge
A mid-ocean ridge is a general term for an underwater mountain system that consists of various mountain ranges , typically having a valley known as a rift running along its spine, formed by plate tectonics. This type of oceanic ridge is characteristic of what is known as an oceanic spreading...

s and oceanic trench
Oceanic trench
The oceanic trenches are hemispheric-scale long but narrow topographic depressions of the sea floor. They are also the deepest parts of the ocean floor....

es. Other prominent examples include areas overlying mantle plume
Mantle plume
A mantle plume is a hypothetical thermal diapir of abnormally hot rock that nucleates at the core-mantle boundary and rises through the Earth's mantle. Such plumes were invoked in 1971 to explain volcanic regions that were not thought to be explicable by the then-new theory of plate tectonics. Some...

s such as the African superswell
African superswell
The African superswell is an extraordinary uplift of the African continent, particularly its southern half; southern Africa on average lies a full kilometer above sea level, with seemingly anomalous uplifts extending well into the south Atlantic ocean....


The mid-ocean ridges are high due to dynamic topography because the upwelling hot material underneath them pushes them up above the surrounding seafloor. This provides an important driving force in plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

 called ridge push: the increased gravitational potential energy of the mid-ocean ridge due to its dynamic uplift causes it to extend and push the surrounding lithosphere away from the ridge axis. Dynamic topography and mantle density variations can explain 90% of the long-wavelength geoid
The geoid is that equipotential surface which would coincide exactly with the mean ocean surface of the Earth, if the oceans were in equilibrium, at rest , and extended through the continents . According to C.F...

 after the hydrostatic ellipsoid
Shape of the Earth
Shape of the Earth may refer to:* Figure of the Earth, scientific measurement of the Earth's shape.* Flat Earth, a model of the Earth as a flat plane or disk.* Spherical Earth, a model of the earth as a sphere or oblate spheroid.-See:...

 is subtracted out.

Dynamic topography is the reason why the geoid is high over regions of low-density mantle. If the mantle were static, these low-density regions would be geoid lows. However, these low-density regions move upwards in a mobile, convecting mantle, elevating density interfaces such as the core-mantle boundary
Core-mantle boundary
The core–mantle boundary lies between the Earth's silicate mantle and its liquid iron-nickel outer core. This boundary is located at approximately 2900 km of depth beneath the Earth's surface. The boundary is observed via the discontinuity in seismic wave velocities at that depth...

, 440 and 670 kilometer discontinuities, and the Earth's surface. Since both the density and the dynamic topography provide approximately the same magnitude of change in the geoid, the resultant geoid is a relatively small value (being the difference between large but similar numbers).


In oceanography, dynamic topography refers to the topography of the sea surface related to the dynamics of its own flow. In hydrostatic equilibrium
Hydrostatic equilibrium
Hydrostatic equilibrium or hydrostatic balance is the condition in fluid mechanics where a volume of a fluid is at rest or at constant velocity. This occurs when compression due to gravity is balanced by a pressure gradient force...

, the surface of the ocean would have no topography, but due the ocean current
Ocean current
An ocean current is a continuous, directed movement of ocean water generated by the forces acting upon this mean flow, such as breaking waves, wind, Coriolis effect, cabbeling, temperature and salinity differences and tides caused by the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun...

s, its maximum dynamic topography is on the order of two meters.