Fast non-linear gravity inversion in spherical coordinates with application to the South American Moho

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Leonardo Uieda , Valeria Cristina Ferreira Barbosa


Estimating the relief of the Moho from gravity data is a computationally intensive non-linear inverse problem. What is more, the modeling must take the Earths curvature into account when the study area is of regional scale or greater. We present a regularized non-linear gravity inversion method that has a low computational footprint and employs a spherical Earth approximation. To achieve this, we combine the highly efficient Botts method with smoothness regularization and a discretization of the anomalous Moho into tesseroids (spherical prisms). The computational efficiency of our method is attained by harnessing the fact that all matrices involved are sparse. The inversion results are controlled by three hyper-parameters: the regularization parameter, the anomalous Moho density-contrast, and the reference Moho depth. We estimate the regularization parameter using the method of hold-out cross-validation. Additionally, we estimate the density-contrast and the reference depth using knowledge of the Moho depth at certain points. We apply the proposed method to estimate the Moho depth for the South American continent using satellite gravity data and seismological data. The final Moho model is in accordance with previous gravity-derived models and seismological data. The misfit to the gravity and seismological data is worse in the Andes and best in oceanic areas, central Brazil and Patagonia, and along the Atlantic coast. Similarly to previous results, the model suggests a thinner crust of 30-35 km under the Andean foreland basins. Discrepancies with the seismological data are greatest in the Guyana Shield, the central Solimões and Amazonas Basins, the Paraná Basin, and the Borborema province. These differences suggest the existence of crustal or mantle density anomalies that were unaccounted for during gravity data processing.



Earth Sciences, Geophysics and Seismology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Inverse theory, South America, Gravity anomalies and Earth structure, Moho, Satellite gravity


Published: 2019-04-07 09:37

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International