Deep Mantle Large Low Shear-Wave Velocity Provinces: Principally Thermal Structures?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 11:05 AM
Rhodri Davies, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia and Saskia D B Goes, Imperial College London, London, SW7, United Kingdom
The two large low shear-wave velocity provinces (LLSVPs) that dominate lower-mantle structure may hold key information on Earth's thermal and chemical evolution. It is generally accepted that these provinces are hotter than background mantle and are likely the main source of mantle plumes. Increasingly, it is also proposed that they hold a dense (primitive and/or recycled) compositional component. The principle evidence that LLSVPs may represent thermo-chemical `piles' comes from seismic constraints, including: (i) their long-wavelength nature; (ii) sharp gradients in shear-wave velocity at their margins; (iii) non-Gaussian distributions of deep mantle shear-wave velocity anomalies; (iv) anti-correlated shear-wave and bulk-sound velocity anomalies (and elevated ratios between shear- and compressional-wave velocity anomalies); (v) anti-correlated shear-wave and density anomalies; and (vi) 1-D/radial profiles of seismic velocity that deviate from those expected for an isochemical, well-mixed mantle. In addition, it has been proposed that hotspots and the reconstructed eruption sites of large igneous provinces correlate in location with LLSVP margins. Here, we review recent results, which indicate that the majority of these constraints do not require thermo-chemical piles: they are equally well (or poorly) explained by thermal heterogeneity alone. Our analyses and conclusions are largely based on comparisons between imaged seismic structure and synthetic seismic structures from a set of thermal and thermo-chemical mantle convection models, which are constrained by 300 Myr of plate motion histories. Modelled physical structure (temperature, pressure and composition) is converted into seismic velocities via a thermodynamic approach that accounts for elastic, anelastic and phase contributions and, subsequently, a tomographic resolution filter is applied to account for the damping and geographic bias inherent to seismic imaging. Our results indicate that, in terms of large-scale seismic structure and dynamics, these two provinces are predominantly thermal features and, accordingly, that chemical heterogeneity is largely a passive component of lowermost mantle dynamics.