A Global View of the Lithosphere-Asthenosphere Boundary

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Science  24 Apr 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5926, pp. 495-498
DOI: 10.1126/science.1169754

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The lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary divides the rigid lid from the weaker mantle and is fundamental in plate tectonics. However, its depth and defining mechanism are not well known. We analyzed 15 years of global seismic data using P-to-S (Ps) converted phases and imaged an interface that correlates with tectonic environment, varying from 95 ± 4 kilometers beneath Precambrian shields and platforms to 81 ± 2 kilometers beneath tectonically altered regions and 70 ± 4 kilometers at oceanic island stations. High-frequency Ps observations require a sharp discontinuity; therefore, this interface likely represents a boundary in composition, melting, or anisotropy, not temperature alone. It likely represents the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary under oceans and tectonically altered regions, but it may constitute another boundary in cratonic regions where the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary is thought to be much deeper.

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