North American lithospheric discontinuity structure imaged by Ps and Sp receiver functions

David L. Abt, Karen M. Fischer, Scott W. French, Heather A. Ford, Huaiyu Yuan, Barbara Romanowicz

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240 Citations (Scopus)


Sp and Ps converted seismic waves at 93 permanent seismic stations are used to image upper mantle velocity discontinuities across the contiguous United States and portions of southeast Canada and northwest Mexico. Receiver functions are calculated with frequency-domain deconvolution and migrated with 1D models that account for variations in crustal structure and mantle velocities between stations. Strong positive Ps phases from the Moho are observed and agree well with previous crustal thickness estimates. In the tectonically active western U.S., high amplitude, negative Sp phases are interpreted as the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary (LAB) at depths of 51-104 km. These phases indicate a large and rapid LAB velocity gradient and are consistent with an anomalously hot asthenosphere that is rich in water or contains partial melt. In the regions of the Phanerozoic southern and eastern U.S where Sp phases are interpretable as the LAB, the discontinuity lies at depths of 75-111 km and is also too sharp to be explained by temperature alone. In contrast, no Sp phases are observed at depths comparable to the base of the thick high velocity lithosphere that lies beneath cratonic North America and certain portions of the Phanerozoic eastern U.S. At these stations, negative Sp phases occur at depths of 59-113 km and are interpreted as the top of a low velocity zone internal to the lithosphere. The absence of an observable LAB discontinuity in regions of thick lithosphere indicates that the LAB velocity gradient is distributed over more than 50-70 km in depth and is consistent with a purely thermal boundary.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberB09301
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2010
Externally publishedYes


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