Correlating Large Igneous Provinces with Lower Mantle Seismic Structure – Where Is the Plume Generation Zone?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 3:01 PM
Jacqueline Austermann, Bryan T. Kaye, Jerry X Mitrovica and Peter J Huybers, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, United States
Deep mantle seismic structure is dominated by two large, low shear wave velocity provinces (LLSVPs) below Africa and the Pacific. While different tomography models have come to a consensus over the general geometry of these provinces, the degree of thermal versus chemical heterogeneity that defines them is contentious. The location of plumes that rise from these large structures may provide insight into this question. Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) are thought to be the surface expression of plumes that formed in the deep mantle and subsequently rose through the mantle and erupted at the surface. When restored to their original location of eruption, these LIPs appear to lie approximately above the margins of LLSVPs. This spatial correlation has been used to argue that plumes are preferentially generated at margins of LLSVPs, a notion that would tend to favor a significant chemical gradient at this margin. We assessed the robustness of this correlation by performing a series of Monte Carlo-based statistical tests (Austermann et al., Geophys. J. Int., 2014). These tests confirm that the reconstructed locations of LIPs are spatially correlated with margins of LLSVPs, but they also show that LIPs are correlated with the full areal extent of LLSVPs (parameterized as regions of slower-than-average shear wave velocity). These two correlations cannot be statistically distinguished, which means the areal extent of LLSVPs is an equally likely zone for plume generation. Therefore, based on current tomography models and reconstructed locations of LIPs, we cannot distinguish whether LIPs originated preferentially at the margins of LLSVPs or whether this correlation is merely an outcome of their origin across the full areal extent of these large scale, deep mantle structures. We will discuss the implications of our findings on the growing debate over the relative contributions of thermal and chemical effects on the net buoyancy of the LLSVPs, a factor that ultimately controls their longevity.