Shear-Wave Splitting and Mantle Flow Beneath the Colorado Plateau and its Boundary with the Great Basin

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Wang, Xinling L.
Ni, James F.
Aster, Richard
Sandvol, Eric
Wilson, David
Sine, Christopher
Grand, Stephen P.
Baldridge, W. Scott

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Shear-wave splitting measurements from SKS and SKKS phases show fast polarization azimuths that are subparallel to North American absolute plate motion within the central Rio Grande Rift (RGR) and Colorado Plateau (CP) through to the western rim of the CP, with anisotropy beneath the CP and central RGR showing a remarkably consistent pattern with a mean fast azimuth of 4 degrees +/- degrees 6 E of N. Approaching the rim from the southeast, fast anisotropic directions become north-northeast-south-southwest (NNE-SSW), rotate counter clockwise to north-south in the CP-GB transition, and then to NNW-SSE in the western Great Basin ( GB). This change is coincident with uppermost mantle S-wave velocity perturbations that vary from +4% beneath the western CP and the eastern edge of the Marysvale volcanic field to about -8% beneath the GB. Corresponding delay times average 1.5 sec beneath the central CP, decrease to approximately 0.8 sec near the CP-GB transition, and increase to about 1.2 sec beneath the GB. For the central CP, we suggest anisotropy predominantly controlled by North American plate motion above the asthenosphere. The observed pattern of westward-rotating anisotropy from the western CP through the CP-GB transition may be influenced to asthenospheric flow around a CP lithospheric keel and/or by vertical flow arising from edge-driven small-scale convection. The anisotropic transition from the CP to the GB thus marks a first-order change from absolute plate motion dominated lithosphere-asthenosphere shear to a new regime controlled by regional flow processes. The NNW-SSE anisotropic fast directions of split SKS waves in the eastern GB area are part of a broad circular pattern of seismic anisotropic fast direction in the central GB that has recently been hypothesized to be due to toroidal flow around the sinking Juan de Fuca-Gorda slab.


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Wang, Xinling, James F. Ni, Richard Aster, Eric Sandvol, David Wilson, Christopher Sine, Stephen P. Grand, and W. Scott Baldridge. "Shear-wave splitting and mantle flow beneath the Colorado Plateau and its boundary with the Great Basin." Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Vol. 98, No. 5 (Oct., 2008): 2526-2532.