The Mid-Lithospheric Discontinuity caused by channel flow in the cratonic lithosphere

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Haibin Yang, Irina Artemieva, Hans Thybo


Stable cratons with a thick (> 200 km) and cold lithosphere form rheologically strong plates that move atop a ductile asthenospheric mantle. Various types of seismic observations show the presence of a potentially rheologically weak zone at depths of ca. 80 – 150 km termed the Mid-Lithosphere Discontinuity (MLD). While various mechanisms may explain the MLD, the dynamic processes leading to the seismic observations are unclear. We propose that the MLD can be caused by channel flow in the lower lithosphere, triggered by negative Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities at cratonic margins in the Archean, when the mantle was hotter than at present. Presence of a chemically distinct, low-density cratonic lithospheric root is required to initiate the process. Numerical modeling shows that the top of the channel flow creates a shear zone at a depth comparable to the globally observed seismic MLD. Grain size reduction in the shear zone and accumulation of percolated melts or fluids along the channel top may reduce seismic wave speeds as observed in the MLD, while the channel flow itself may explain radial anisotropy of seismic wave speeds. Secular cooling of the Earth deepens the top of the channel flow on a 1 Gyr scale, and early-stage large-scale (1000’s km long) channel flow deformation switches to a different deformation style with a smaller (100’s km) wavelength. These different flow patterns may explain the different seismic response of the MLD and the lithosphere base



Earth Sciences, Geophysics and Seismology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Tectonics and Structure


Seismic anisotropy, Mid-Lithospheric Discontinuity, Low velocity zone, Lithospheric mantle, Radioactive heat, Archean tectonics


Published: 2021-04-20 13:11


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data Availability (Reason not available):
Only published data are used in this study

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