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Regional Variations in Upper Mantle Structure Beneath North America


Julian, Bruce Rene (1970) Regional Variations in Upper Mantle Structure Beneath North America. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/PT11-B635.


Several types of seismological data, including surface wave group and phase velocities, travel times from large explosions, and teleseismic travel time anomalies, have indicated that there are significant regional variations in the upper few hundred kilometers of the mantle beneath continental areas. Body wave travel times and amplitudes from large chemical and nuclear explosions are used in this study to delineate the details of these variations beneath North America.

As a preliminary step in this study, theoretical P wave travel times, apparent velocities, and amplitudes have been calculated for a number of proposed upper mantle models, those of Gutenberg, Jeffreys, Lehman, and Lukk and Nersesov. These quantities have been calculated for both P and S waves for model CIT11GB, which is derived from surface wave dispersion data. First arrival times for all the models except that of Lukk and Nersesov are in close agreement, but the travel time curves for later arrivals are both qualitatively and quantitatively very different. For model CIT11GB, there are two large, overlapping regions of triplication of the travel time curve, produced by regions of rapid velocity increase near depths of 400 and 600 km. Throughout the distance range from 10 to 40 degrees, the later arrivals produced by these discontinuities have larger amplitudes than the first arrivals. The amplitudes of body waves, in fact, are extremely sensitive to small variations in the velocity structure, and provide a powerful tool for studying structural details.

Most of eastern North America, including the Canadian Shield has a Pn velocity of about 8.1 km/sec, with a nearly abrupt increase in compressional velocity by ~ 0.3 km/sec near at a depth varying regionally between 60 and 90 km. Variations in the structure of this part of the mantle are significant even within the Canadian Shield. The low-velocity zone is a minor feature in eastern North America and is subject to pronounced regional variations. It is 30 to 50 km thick, and occurs somewhere in the depth range from 80 to 160 km. The velocity decrease is less than 0.2 km/sec.

Consideration of the absolute amplitudes indicates that the attenuation due to anelasticity is negligible for 2 hz waves in the upper 200 km along the southeastern and southwestern margins of the Canadian Shield. For compressional waves the average Q for this region is > 3000. The amplitudes also indicate that the velocity gradient is at least 2 x 10-3 both above and below the low-velocity zone, implying that the temperature gradient is < 4.8°C/km if the regions are chemically homogeneous.

In western North America, the low-velocity zone is a pronounced feature, extending to the base of the crust and having minimum velocities of 7.7 to 7.8 km/sec. Beneath the Colorado Plateau and Southern Rocky Mountains provinces, there is a rapid velocity increase of about 0.3 km/sec, similar to that observed in eastern North America, but near a depth of 100 km.

Complicated travel time curves observed on profiles with stations in both eastern and western North America can be explained in detail by a model taking into account the lateral variations in the structure of the low-velocity zone. These variations involve primarily the velocity within the zone and the depth to the top of the zone; the depth to the bottom is, for both regions, between 140 and 160 km.

The depth to the transition zone near 400 km also varies regionally, by about 30-40 km. These differences imply variations of 250 °C in the temperature or 6 % in the iron content of the mantle, if the phase transformation of olivine to the spinel structure is assumed responsible. The structural variations at this depth are not correlated with those at shallower depths, and follow no obvious simple pattern.

The computer programs used in this study are described in the Appendices. The program TTINV (Appendix IV) fits spherically symmetric earth models to observed travel time data. The method, described in Appendix III, resembles conventional least-square fitting, using partial derivatives of the travel time with respect to the model parameters to perturb an initial model. The usual ill-conditioned nature of least-squares techniques is avoided by a technique which minimizes both the travel time residuals and the model perturbations.

Spherically symmetric earth models, however, have been found inadequate to explain most of the observed travel times in this study. TVT4, a computer program that performs ray theory calculations for a laterally inhomogeneous earth model, is described in Appendix II. Appendix I gives a derivation of seismic ray theory for an arbitrarily inhomogeneous earth model.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Geology
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Anderson, Donald L. (advisor)
  • Archambeau, Charles B. (co-advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Unknown, Unknown
Defense Date:6 October 1969
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:09242015-115554328
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9173
Deposited By: Benjamin Perez
Deposited On:12 Nov 2015 22:09
Last Modified:21 Dec 2019 04:01

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