Seismic constraints on the evolution of the continental lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary system

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 1:55 PM
Heather A Ford, Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States, Emily Hopper, Brown University, Providence, RI, United States, Karen M. Fischer, Brown University, Dept. of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Providence, RI, United States, Vedran Lekic, University of Maryland, Washington, DC, United States, Kate Selway, Lamont -Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States and Peter B Kelemen, Columbia University of New York, Palisades, NY, United States
While the interface between the lithosphere and the asthenosphere is often shown in textbooks as a schematically simple boundary, its existence in reality is considerably more complex, with debate existing over the physical and chemical properties that differentiate the overriding, rigid lithosphere from the convecting mantle below. Despite these uncertainties, receiver function analysis shows us that lateral variations in seismic properties (e.g., depth and velocity gradient) exist. These differences are often well-correlated with the tectonic age of the lithosphere, indicating that the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary (LAB) evolves with time.

In our presentation we will outline our work to image the LAB and other lithospheric structure with Sp receiver functions beneath continental North America. In portions of the tectonically active western U.S., detailed 3D imaging reveals a well-defined negative phase at depths of ~50-100 km, consistent with surface wave estimates of LAB depth. Modeling indicates that LAB velocity gradient in these regions is too large to be a function of temperature change alone and that changing composition, water or melt content is also needed. In contrast, there is a dearth of Sp receiver function phase energy present at depths appropriate to the transition from lithosphere to asthenosphere beneath many regions of stable continental interior. Where present, the LAB phase is considerably weaker than in tectonically active regions. A weak or absent phase can be explained through thermal changes alone, although other mechanisms cannot be ruled out. In the stable continental regions we also commonly detect one or more mid-lithospheric discontinuities (MLDs). The observation of such a phase is relatively new, and may be a globally present feature in older continental lithosphere. The MLD in our work appears as both a single phase as well as multiple discrete phases. At the global and regional scale the depth of the MLD, and the LAB in tectonically active regions, is often similar, leading to speculation about the relationship between the two. We will briefly examine possible causes for the MLD, include thermal, compositional and anisotropic effects. We then place these results in the context of the spatial and temporal evolution of the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary system.