Is there a zone of weakness beneath the New Madrid and Wabash Valley Seismic Zones?
Monday, 15 December 2014
The US midcontinent contains several intraplate seismic zones, including the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) sitting above the Reelfoot Rift, and the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone (WVSZ), associated with a smaller Grayville Graben, stretching along the border between Illinois and Indiana. This study provides a new estimate of the velocity structure beneath the area based on observations from the Transportable Array and the OIINK (Ozarks-Illinois-INdiana-Kentucky) FlexArray experiment in the region. Numerous models, involving a zone of weakness either in the crust or the mantle, have been used to explain the seismicity in the NMSZ. Here we present a shear velocity model of the lithosphere beneath the midcontinent by inverting dispersion curves of fundamental mode Rayleigh waves, which are primarily sensitive to the shear wave speeds. We find no spatial correlation between the crustal velocity variations and the two seismic zones. But we do observe that low velocities (~ 4% lower than the measured average of the area) exist in the mantle beneath the NMSZ at depths between 90 and 125 km. The low upper mantle velocities extend to the north and reach the WVSZ, where they are about 3% lower than the average. Velocity variations can result from thermal or compositional heterogeneities, although a thermal perturbation is less likely in this area because no clear surface heat flow anomaly is observed. Compositional heterogeneities, such as the presence of hydrous minerals or contamination by enriched mantle from a plume can reduce seismic velocities as well as the mechanical strength of a region, which would produce a weak zone. The lithosphere beneath a failed rift which has already undergone an earlier phase of deformation is more susceptible to compositional modification and weakening compared to an intact part of a craton. Thus, the two seismic zones may mark locations where deformation has been localized in the crust above a weak mantle due to their lower integrated lithospheric strength.