Report

The Gutenberg Discontinuity: Melt at the Lithosphere-Asthenosphere Boundary

Science  23 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6075, pp. 1480-1483
DOI: 10.1126/science.1215433

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Abstract

The lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary (LAB) beneath ocean basins separates the upper thermal boundary layer of rigid, conductively cooling plates from the underlying ductile, convecting mantle. The origin of a seismic discontinuity associated with this interface, known as the Gutenberg discontinuity (G), remains enigmatic. High-frequency SS precursors sampling below the Pacific plate intermittently detect the G as a sharp, negative velocity contrast at 40- to 75-kilometer depth. These observations lie near the depth of the LAB in regions associated with recent surface volcanism and mantle melt production and are consistent with an intermittent layer of asthenospheric partial melt residing at the lithospheric base. I propose that the G reflectivity is regionally enhanced by dynamical processes that produce melt, including hot mantle upwellings, small-scale convection, and fluid release during subduction.

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