Density of the continental roots: Compositional and thermal contributions

Earth and Planetary Science Letters

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DOI: 10.1016/S0012-821X(03)00072-4



The origin and evolution of cratonic roots has been debated for many years. Precambrian cratons are underlain by cold lithospheric roots that are chemically depleted. Thermal and petrologic data indicate that Archean roots are colder and more chemically depleted than Proterozoic roots. This observation has led to the hypothesis that the degree of depletion in a lithospheric root depends mostly on its age. Here we test this hypothesis using gravity, thermal, petrologic, and seismic data to quantify differences in the density of cratonic roots globally. In the first step in our analysis we use a global crustal model to remove the crustal contribution to the observed gravity. The result is the mantle gravity anomaly field, which varies over cratonic areas from -100 to +100 mGal. Positive mantle gravity anomalies are observed for cratons in the northern hemisphere: the Baltic shield, East European Platform, and the Siberian Platform. Negative anomalies are observed over cratons in the southern hemisphere: Western Australia, South America, the Indian shield, and Southern Africa. This indicates that there are significant differences in the density of cratonic roots, even for those of similar age. Root density depends on temperature and chemical depletion. In order to separate these effects we apply a lithospheric temperature correction using thermal estimates from a combination of geothermal modeling and global seismic tomography models. Gravity anomalies induced by temperature variations in the uppermost mantle range from -200 to +300 mGal, with the strongest negative anomalies associated with mid-ocean ridges and the strongest positive anomalies associated with cratons. After correcting for thermal effects, we obtain a map of density variations due to lithospheric compositional variations. These maps indicate that the average density decrease due to the chemical depletion within cratonic roots varies from 1.1% to 1.5%, assuming the chemical boundary layer has the same thickness as the thermal boundary layer. The maximal values of the density drop are in the range 1.7-2.5%, and correspond to the Archean portion of each craton. Temperatures within cratonic roots vary strongly, and our analysis indicates that density variations in the roots due to temperature are larger than the variations due to chemical differences. ?? 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

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Density of the continental roots: Compositional and thermal contributions
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Earth and Planetary Science Letters
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Earth and Planetary Science Letters
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