The Tectonic Evolution of SE Canada: Seismic Evidence from the QM-III Experiment
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Much of the geological record can be interpreted in the context of processes operating today at plate boundaries. This works well to explain processes and products during the Phanerozoic era; during Precambrian times when the oldest rocks were forming, however, conditions on the younger, hotter, more ductile Earth were likely very different, making analogies with modern day tectonics less certain. Gathering evidence preserved deep within the plates in the shields is thus essential to improve our understanding of the early Earth. Shields are usually underlain by thick, seismically fast roots that are absent beneath younger portions of Earth's surface. The thermochemically distinct nature of cratonic roots is often associated with Archean processes such as the extraction of komatiitic magmas. However, the cratonic core of North America does not fit easily into this Archean formation paradigm: part of the Canadian shield extends beneath the Archean Superior craton, but much of it persists beneath younger Proterozoic crust as well. We present here a relative arrival-time tomographic study of mantle seismic structure using data from a new seismograph network operating in SE Canada. Our stations extend from the Archean Superior craton around the southern tip of Hudson Bay, through Proterozoic Grenville terranes, and into Paleozoic coastal Maine and Nova Scotia. Tomographic images display three broad zones of mantle wavespeed: slow in the Appalachian terranes; fast in the Grenville Province; very fast within the Superior craton. Archean lithosphere has been modified by the Great Meteor hotspot, but we find no evidence for major plate-scale underthrusting during the Grenville orogeny. The abrupt wavespeed transition from Archean to Proterozoic mantle is thus consistent with the emerging consensus that keels form in two stages: a chemically depleted layer in Archean times followed by the thermal development of a less-depleted lithosphere during Proterozoic times.