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Published May 15, 2009 | Published
Journal Article Open

Adjoint models of mantle convection with seismic, plate motion, and stratigraphic constraints: North America since the Late Cretaceous


We apply adjoint models of mantle convection to North America since the Late Cretaceous. The present-day mantle structure is constrained by seismic tomography and the time-dependent evolution by plate motions and stratigraphic data (paleoshorelines, borehole tectonic subsidence, and sediment isopachs). We infer values of average upper and lower mantle viscosities, provide a synthesis of North American vertical motions (relative sea level) from the Late Cretaceous to the present, and reconstruct the geometry of the Farallon slab back to the Late Cretaceous. In order to fit Late Cretaceous marine inundation and borehole subsidence, the adjoint model requires a viscosity ratio across 660 km discontinuity of 15:1 (reference viscosity of 10^(21) Pa s), which is consistent with values previously inferred by postglacial rebound studies. The dynamic topography associated with subduction of the Farallon slab is localized in western North America over Late Cretaceous, representing the primary factor controlling the widespread flooding. The east coast of the United States is not stable; rather, it has been experiencing continuous dynamic subsidence over the Cenozoic, coincident with an overall eustatic fall, explaining a discrepancy between sea level derived from the New Jersey coastal plain and global curves. The east coast subsidence further constrains the mantle viscosity structure and requires an uppermost mantle viscosity of 10^(20) Pa s. Imposed constraints require that the Farallon slab was flat lying during Late Cretaceous, with an extensive zone of shallow dipping Farallon subduction extending beyond the flat-lying slab farther east and north by up to 1000 km than previously suggested.

Additional Information

© 2009 American Geophysical Union. Received 1 December 2008; accepted 3 April 2009; published 15 May 2009. We thank Jason Saleeby and Dietmar Müller for valuable discussions during the course of this work and Rhodri Davies and Dag Nummedal for helpful reviews. We thank Becky Flowers for sharing her work in advance of publication. This is contribution 10,012 of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences and contribution 95 of the Tectonics Observatory, Caltech. The original CitcomS software was obtained from Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics (CIG) (http://geodynamics.org). All calculations carried out on the Caltech Geosciences Supercomputer Facility are partially supported by NSF EAR-0521699. This work was supported through the Caltech Tectonics Observatory (by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation), the National Science Foundation (EAR-0609707 and EAR-0810303), StatoilHydro, and an ExxonMobil Science grant (to S.S.).

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August 21, 2023
August 21, 2023