Seismic velocity structure and composition of the continental crust: A global view

Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
By:  and 



Seismic techniques provide the highest‐resolution measurements of the structure of the crust and have been conducted on a worldwide basis. We summarize the structure of the continental crust based on the results of seismic refraction profiles and infer crustal composition as a function of depth by comparing these results with high‐pressure laboratory measurements of seismic velocity for a wide range of rocks that are commonly found in the crust. The thickness and velocity structure of the crust are well correlated with tectonic province, with extended crust showing an average thickness of 30.5 km and orogens an average of 46.3 km. Shields and platforms have an average crustal thickness nearly equal to the global average. We have corrected for the nonuniform geographical distribution of seismic refraction profiles by estimating the global area of each major crustal type. The weighted average crustal thickness based on these values is 41.1 km. This value is 10% to 20% greater than previous estimates which underrepresented shields, platforms, and orogens. The average compressional wave velocity of the crust is 6.45 km/s, and the average velocity of the uppermost mantle (Pn velocity) is 8.09 km/s. We summarize the velocity structure of the crust at 5‐km depth intervals, both in the form of histograms and as an average velocity‐depth curve, and compare these determinations with new measurements of compressional wave velocities and densities of over 3000 igneous and metamorphic rock cores made to confining pressures of 1 GPa. On the basis of petrographic studies and chemical analyses, the rocks have been classified into 29 groups. Average velocities, densities, and standard deviations are presented for each group at 5‐km depth intervals to crustal depths of 50 km along three different geotherms. This allows us to develop a model for the composition of the continental crust. Velocities in the upper continental crust are matched by velocities of a large number of lithologies, including many low‐grade metamorphic rocks and relatively silicic gneisses of amphibolite facies grade. In midcrustal regions, velocity gradients appear to originate from an increase in metamorphic grade, as well as a decrease in silica content. Tonalitic gneiss, granitic gneiss, and amphibolite are abundant midcrustal lithologies. Anisotropy due to preferred mineral orientation is likely to be significant in upper and midcrustal regions. The bulk of the lower continental crust is chemically equivalent to gabbro, with velocities in agreement with laboratory measurements of mafic granulite. Garnet becomes increasingly abundant with depth, and mafic garnet granulite is the dominant rock type immediately above the Mohorovicic discontinuity. Average compressional wave velocities of common crustal rock types show excellent correlations with density. The mean crustal density calculated from our model is 2830 kg/m3, and the average SiO2 content is 61.8%.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Seismic velocity structure and composition of the continental crust: A global view
Series title Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
DOI 10.1029/95JB00259
Volume 100
Issue B6
Year Published 1995
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 28 p.
First page 9761
Last page 9788
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