Basin-Specific Variations in the Thermal Aging of Oceanic Asthenosphere

Friday, 19 December 2014
Elizabeth Paulson, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, United States and Thomas H Jordan, Southern California Earthquake Center, Los Angeles, CA, United States
To investigate the depth extent of mantle thermal aging beneath ocean basins, we project 3D Voigt averaged S-velocity variations from an ensemble of global tomographic models onto a 1º x 1º degree age-based regionalization and average each major ocean basin (Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian) in equal increments of the square-root of crustal age. By comparing the age averaged S-wave profiles, we estimate convergence depths, the minimum depths where age variations become statistically insignificant. Following Jordan & Paulson (JGR, doi:10.1002/jgrb.50263, 2013), we estimate aleatory variability in the S-wave profiles, correct for vertical smearing bias, and estimate epistemic uncertainties over the model ensemble. We can assert with 90% confidence that the age-correlated variations in Voigt-averaged S velocities persist to depths greater than 170 km. Given the strong evidence that the G discontinuity (~70 km) approximates the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary (LAB) beneath ocean basins, we conclude that the upper part of the oceanic asthenosphere participates in the cooling that forms the kinematic plates. Age-averaged profiles show significant differences among the ocean basins. To quantify this, we fit age-dependent vertical travel times through the uppermost mantle of the models with an idealized Earth model having a strict square-root of age velocity structure in the ocean basins, suitably filtered to mimic tomographic smoothing. Good fits can be obtained for the Atlantic and Indian ocean basins out to 170 My, although the travel-time slopes for the former are steeper than the latter, implying more rapid cooling in the Atlantic. The Pacific basin shows significant deviations from simple conductive cooling for ages greater than about 50 My, in general agreement with previously published surface-wave models, indicating perturbations associated with small-scale convective processes. We conclude that large-scale flow advects small-scale heterogeneities due to convection along with the plates, allowing the upper asthenosphere to continue cooling with lithospheric age. The observed thermal aging of oceanic asthenosphere appears to be inconsistent the LAB hypothesis, which states that lithospheric plates are decoupled from deeper mantle flow by a plate-scale shear zone in the upper asthenosphere.