A high resolution seismic reflection image for the oceanic LAB (Lithosphere-Asthenosphere Boundary), beneath southern North Island, New Zealand
Thursday, 18 December 2014: 2:40 PM
We present the first high-resolution, multichannel, seismic-reflection image for the base of an oceanic plate. Our image is based on an 85 km-long, ~ 900 station deployment across the lower North Island of New Zealand. 12 x 500 kg dynamite shots were used as seismic sources. Strong reflections at a two way travel time of 9-12 s define the top of the plate that dips to the NW at ~ 12-15 degrees. Between 27-32 s we identify a pair of reflections on some shot gathers that are interpreted to come from a reflection 90-100 km deep, that dips to the NW at 15 degrees. We interpret the reflection pair as marking a Lithosphere-Asthenosphere Boundary (LAB) zone at the base of the Pacific plate. Using all 12 shots we made a CDP-stacked image (maximum fold = 15) that shows the LAB as a double event (2-3 s apart) dipping roughly parallel to the top of the plate and Benioff zone. Shot quality varies but the highest frequencies we record from the base of the plate are ~ 18 Hz, suggesting a boundary zone < 1 km thick. Seismic amplitude attributes, calibrated to the reflection from the top of the plate, indicate P-wave speed drops off at least 8% across the LAB boundary. The double reflection at the LAB is interpreted to be a 10 km-thick layer of low seismic wave speed. Because it is so sharp it cannot be a thermal boundary and must represent some form of mechanical change. Previous attempts to explain the abruptness of seismic wave speed changes at the LAB have appealed to layered zones of ponded melt, or anelastic relaxation due to water accumulating beneath the LAB. Both mechanisms may explain our observations and both would point to low viscosity below the LAB. However, the fact we see a ~ 10 km thick channel, with strong acoustic impedances each side of the channel, suggests a shear zone where plate motion ( ~ 9 cm/y in hotspot reference frame) is taken up and strain rates of ~3 x 10-13 s-1 are generated. This interpreted, low wave-speed, low-viscosity, shear zone appears to be a key factor in allowing plates to slide with little resistance and therefore to allow plate tectonics to work.