Subduction Beneath Laurentia Modified the North American Craton Edge: Evidence from P and S-wave Tomography


Cratons, the ancient cores of the continents, are the longest-lived parts of Earth's surface that have survived thermal and mechanical erosion during multiple Wilson cycles. They are visible in tomographic images due to their thick (>200km), seismically fast keels or roots. The Laurentian keel beneath North America is intriguing since its root is thought to extend beneath both the Archean Superior craton and the Proterozoic Grenville province thus implying that keel formation may not have been restricted to Archean times. In order to address this issue we present a P and S wave relative arrival-time tomographic study using data from seismograph networks in SE Canada and the NE US, stretching from the southern tip of Hudson Bay within the Superior craton to the coastal Phanerozoic Appalachian terranes. The tomographic images display three broad zones of increasing mantle wavespeed from globally “slow" in the Appalachian terranes, to a “fast" Grenville Province and “extremely fast" Superior craton. We observe a linear low-velocity feature resulting from modification of the Laurentian keel by the passage of the Great Meteor hotspot. This feature is progressively offset southwestward with depth, potentially due to viscous coupling with mantle flow. No major plate-scale underthrusting during the Grenville Orogeny is apparent, which contradicts the inferred results from crustal seismic reflection and refraction studies. Our result therefore may have fundamental implications for the nature of the Grenville orogenic collision and cratonic stabilization of North America The results also support the developing consensus that keels form in two stages: a chemically depleted core of Archean age followed by a thermally developed, less-depleted lithosphere during Proterozoic times, highlighted by an abrupt wavespeed contrast in the tomographic images.