Date of Award:

12-2017

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Geology

Advisor/Chair:

Anthony R. Lowry

Abstract

The layered structure and bulk composition of continental crust contains important clues about its history of mountain-building, about its magmatic evolution, and about dynamical processes that continue to happen now. Geophysical and geological features such as gravity anomalies, surface topography, lithospheric strength and the deformation that drives the earthquake cycle are all directly related to deep crustal chemistry and the movement of materials through the crust that alter that chemistry.

The North American continental crust records billions of years of history of tectonic and dynamical changes. The western U.S. is currently experiencing a diverse array of dynamical processes including modification by the Yellowstone hotspot, shortening and extension related to Pacific coast subduction and transform boundary shear, and plate interior seismicity driven by flow of the lower crust and upper mantle. The midcontinent and eastern U.S. is mostly stable but records a history of ancient continental collision and rifting.

EarthScope’s USArray seismic deployment has collected massive amounts of data across the entire United States that illuminates the deep continental crust, lithosphere and deeper mantle. This study uses EarthScope data to investigate the thickness and composition of the continental crust, including properties of its upper and lower layers. One-layer and two-layer models of crustal properties exhibit interesting relationships to the history of North American continental formation and recent tectonic activities that promise to significantly improve our understanding of the deep processes that shape the Earth’s surface. Model results show that seismic velocity ratios are unusually low in the lower crust under the western U.S. Cordillera. Further modeling of how chemistry affects the seismic velocity ratio at temperatures and pressures found in the lower crust suggests that low seismic velocity ratios occur when water is mixed into the mineral matrix, and the combination of high temperature and water may point to small amounts of melt in the lower crust of Cordillera.

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Included in

Geology Commons

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