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I. A seismotectonic study of the Middle America Subduction Zone. II. Lithosphere and upper mantle structure of the Canadian Shield and Eastern North America


LeFevre, L. Victoria (1990) I. A seismotectonic study of the Middle America Subduction Zone. II. Lithosphere and upper mantle structure of the Canadian Shield and Eastern North America. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/20tk-sb77.


This thesis consists of two separate parts. Part I (Chapter 1) is concerned with seismotectonics of the Middle America subduction zone. In this chapter, stress distribution and Benioff zone geometry are investigated along almost 2000 km of this subduction zone, from the Rivera Fracture Zone in the north to Guatemala in the south. Particular emphasis is placed on the effects on stress distribution of two aseismic ridges, the Tehuantepec Ridge and the Orozco Fracture Zone, which subduct at seismic gaps. Stress distribution is determined by studying seismicity distribution, and by analysis of 190 focal mechanisms, both new and previously published, which are collected here. In addition, two recent large earthquakes that have occurred near the Tehuantepec Ridge and the Orozco Fracture Zone are discussed in more detail. A consistent stress release pattern is found along most of the Middle America subduction zone: thrust events at shallow depths, followed down-dip by an area of low seismic activity, followed by a zone of normal events at over 175 km from the trench and 60 km depth. The zone of low activity is interpreted as showing decoupling of the plates, and the zone of normal activity as showing the breakup of the descending plate. The portion of subducted lithosphere containing the Orozco Fracture Zone does not differ significantly, in Benioff zone geometry or in stress distribution, from adjoining segments. The Playa Azul earthquake of October 25, 1981, Ms=7.3, occurred in this area. Body and surface wave analysis of this event shows a simple source with a shallow thrust mechanism and gives Mo=1.3x1027 dyne-cm. A stress drop of about 45 bars is calculated; this is slightly higher than that of other thrust events in this subduction zone. In the Tehuantepec Ridge area, only minor differences in stress distribution are seen relative to adjoining segments. For both ridges, the only major difference from adjoining areas is the infrequency or lack of occurrence of large interplate thrust events.

Part II involves upper mantle P wave structure studies, for the Canadian shield and eastern North America. In Chapter 2, the P wave structure of the Canadian shield is determined through forward waveform modeling of the phases Pnl, P, and PP. Effects of lateral heterogeneity are kept to a minimum by using earthquakes just outside the shield as sources, with propagation paths largely within the shield. Previous mantle structure studies have used recordings of P waves in the upper mantle triplication range of 15-30°; however, the lack of large earthquakes in the shield region makes compilation of a complete P wave dataset difficult. By using the phase PP, which undergoes triplications at 30-60°, much more information becomes available. The WKBJ technique is used to calculate synthetic seismograms for PP, and these records are modeled almost as well as the P. A new velocity model, designated S25, is proposed for the Canadian shield. This model contains a thick, high-Q, high-velocity lid to 165 km and a deep low-velocity zone. These features combine to produce seismograms that are markedly different from those generated by other shield structure models. The upper mantle discontinuities in S25 are placed at 405 and 660 km, with a simple linear gradient in velocity between them. Details of the shape of the discontinuities are not well constrained. Below 405 km, this model is not very different from many proposed P wave models for both shield and tectonic regions.

Chapter 3 looks in more detail at recordings of Pnl in eastern North America. First, seismograms from four eastern North American earthquakes are analyzed, and seismic moments for the events are calculated. These earthquakes are important in that they are among the largest to have occurred in eastern North America in the last thirty years, yet in some cases were not large enough to produce many good long-period teleseismic records. A simple layer-over-a-halfspace model is used for the initial modeling, and is found to provide an excellent fit for many features of the observed waveforms. The effects on Pnl of varying lid structure are then investigated. A thick lid with a positive gradient in velocity, such as that proposed for the Canadian shield in Chapter 2, will have a pronounced effect on the waveforms, beginning at distances of 800 or 900 km. Pnl records from the same eastern North American events are recalculated for several lid structure models, to survey what kinds of variations might be seen. For several records it is possible to see likely effects of lid structure in the data. However, the dataset is too sparse to make any general observations about variations in lid structure. This type of modeling is expected to be important in the future, as the analysis is extended to more recent eastern North American events, and as broadband instruments make more high-quality regional recordings available.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Lithosphere, Geology
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Unknown, Unknown
Thesis Committee:
  • Unknown, Unknown
Defense Date:10 April 1990
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:07152014-110952725
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8541
Deposited By: Benjamin Perez
Deposited On:15 Jul 2014 20:23
Last Modified:09 Nov 2022 19:20

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