To investigate simplified relations between elevation and the extensional, magmatic and thermal processes that influence lithosphere buoyancy, we assume that the lithosphere floats on an asthenosphere of uniform density and has no flexural strength. A simple graph relating elevation to lithosphere density and thickness provides an overview of expectable conditions around the earth and a simple test for consistancy of continental and oceanic lithosphere models. The mass-balance relations yield simple general rules for estimating elevation changes caused by various tectonic, magmatic and thermal processes without referring to detailed models. The rules are general because they depend principally on buoyancy, which under our assumptions is specified by elevation, a known quantity; they do not generally require a knowledge of lithosphere thickness and density. The elevation of an extended terrain contains important information on its tectonic and magmatic history. In the Great Basin where Cenozoic extension is estimated to be 100%, the present high mean elevation ( ~ 1.75 km) probably requires substantial low-density magmatic contributions to the extending lithosphere. The elevation cannot be reasonably explained solely as the buoyant residue of a very high initial terrane, or of a lithosphere that was initially very thick and subsequently delaminated and heated. Even models with a high initial elevation typically call for 10 km or so of accumulated magmatic material of near-crustal density. To understand the evolution of the Great Basin, it is important to determine whether such intruded material is present; some could replenish the stretching crust by underplating and crustal intrusion and some might reside in the upper mantle. The elevation maintained or approached by an intruded extending lithosphere depends on the ratio B of how fast magma is supplied from the asthenosphere ( b km/Ma) to how fast the lithosphere spreads the magma out by extension (?? Ma-1). For a surface maintained 2 1 2km below sea level (e.g., an ocean ridge) B is about 5 km; for continental extension the ratio may be much greater. The frequent association of volcanism with continental extension, the high elevation (and buoyancy) of some appreciably extended terrains, and the oceanic spreading analog all suggest that magmatism may play an important role in continental extension. Better estimates of total extension and elevation change in extended regions can help to identify that role. ?? 1990.
Additional publication details
Continental extension, magmatism and elevation; formal relations and rules of thumb