The thickness and bulk composition of continental crust provide important constraints on the evolution and dynamics of continents. Crustal mineralogy and thickness both may influence gravity anomalies, topographic elevation, and lithospheric strength, but prior to the inception of EarthScope’s USArray, seismic measurements of crustal thickness and properties useful for inferring lithology are sparse. Here we improve upon a previously published methodology for joint inversion of Bouguer gravity anomalies and seismic receiver functions by using parameter space stacking of cross correlations of modeled synthetic and observed receiver functions instead of standard H-κ amplitude stacking. The new method is applied to estimation of thickness and bulk seismic velocity ratio, vP/vS, of continental crust in the conterminous United States using USArray and other broadband network data. Crustal thickness variations are reasonably consistent with those found in other studies and show interesting relationships to the history of North American continental formation. Seismic velocity ratios derived in this study are more robust than in other analyses and hint at large-scale variations in composition of continental crust. To interpret the results, we model the pressure-/temperature-dependent thermodynamics of mineral formation for various crustal chemistries, with and without volatile constituents. Our results suggest that hydration lowers bulk crustal vP/vS and density and releases heat in the shallow crust but absorbs heat in the lowermost crust (where plagioclase breaks down to pyroxene and garnet resulting in higher seismic velocity). Hence, vP/vS variations may provide a useful proxy for hydration state in the crust.
Ma, Xiaofei and Lowry, Anthony R., "USArray Imaging of Continental Crust in the Conterminous United States" (2017). Geology Faculty Publications. Paper 498.