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Published May 10, 1994 | Published
Journal Article Open

Spherical disharmonies in the Earth sciences and the spatial solution: Ridges, hotspots, slabs, geochemistry and tomography correlations


There is increasing use of statistical correlations between geophysical fields and between geochemical and geophysical fields in attempts to understand how the Earth works. Typically, such correlations have been based on spherical harmonic expansions. The expression of functions on the sphere as spherical harmonic series has many pitfalls, especially if the data are nonuniformly and/or sparsely sampled. Many of the difficulties involved in the use of spherical harmonic expansion techniques can be avoided through the use of spatial domain correlations, but this introduces other complications, such as the choice of a sampling lattice. Additionally, many geophysical and geochemical fields fail to satisfy the assumptions of standard statistical significance tests. This is especially problematic when the data values to be correlated with a geophysical field were collected at sample locations which themselves correlate with that field. This paper examines many correlations which have been claimed in the past between geochemistry and mantle tomography and between hotspot, ridge, and slab locations and tomography using both spherical harmonic coefficient correlations and spatial domain correlations. No conclusively significant correlations are found between isotopic geochemistry and mantle tomography. The Crough and Jurdy (short) hotspot location list shows statistically significant correlation with lowermost mantle tomography for degree 2 of the spherical harmonic expansion, but there are no statistically significant correlations in the spatial case. The Vogt (long) hotspot location list does not correlate with tomography anywhere in the mantle using either technique. Both hotspot lists show a strong correlation between hotspot locations and geoid highs when spatially correlated, but no correlations are revealed by spherical harmonic techniques. Ridge locations do not show any statistically significant correlations with tomography, slab locations, or the geoid; the strongest correlation is with lowermost mantle tomography, which is probably spurious. The most striking correlations are between mantle tomography and post-Pangean subducted slabs. The integrated locations of slabs correlate strongly with fast areas near the transition zone and the core-mantle boundary and with slow regions from 1022–1284 km depth. This seems to be consistent with the "avalanching" downwellings which have been indicated by models of the mantle which include an endothermic phase transition at the 670-km discontinuity, although this is not a unique interpretation. Taken as a whole, these results suggest that slabs and associated cold downwellings are the dominant feature of mantle convection. Hotspot locations are no better correlated with lower mantle tomography than are ridge locations.

Additional Information

© 1994 American Geophysical Union. Received July 19, 1993; revised January 28, 1994; accepted January 31, 1994. We thank Craig Scrivner for digital maps of integrated subduction, Sharon Kedar for digital listings of hotspot locations, Thomas Kiefer for the digital geoid model, and Toshiro Tanimoto for the digital tomography model. This work was supported by NSF grant EAR 90-02947 and a NASA Graduate Fellowship. Contribution 5302, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, Caltech, Pasadena, CA 91125.

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August 20, 2023
August 20, 2023