Crustal structure of rifted and convergent margins : the U.S. East Coast and Aleutian margins
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LocationU.S. East Coast margin
Many of the most important processes that create and modify continental crust occur at continental margins, but recently has the scientific community acquired the necessary intrumentation to image crustal structure across margins in detail. In this thesis we investigate the crustal structure across the U.S. East Coast rifted margin and the convergent margin of southwestern Alaska using modern, deep-penetrating marine seismic reflection/refraction data. We consider U.S. East Coast margin transects along the shelf offshore Georgia and across the mid-Atlantic margin near Chesapeak bay. Results by other workers, based on data from these transects, have shown that voluminous volcanism accompanied formation of the rifted margin during continental breakup. Results presented in this thesis constrain the landward extent of rift-related magmatic emplacement. We find that magmatic intrusion and underplating of pre-existing continental crust occurs primarily in extended crust and that crustal extension is focused in a 75-km-wide region beneath the shelf and slope. The crust thinned by 50 to 80% within this interval and then seafloor spreading began with an unusually large volume of igneous crust production. The initial volcanic extrusives were emplaced subaerially and are now present beneath the sediments in a thick seaward-dipping wedge. We use post-stack depth migration to image this wedge and use the resulting image to consider the early subsidence of the margin. The geometry of the subaerially extruded rift volcanics suggest that the margin subsided rapidly once volncanism began. We infer from the subsidence, the along-margin distribution of magmatic material, and the across-margin localization of magmatic emplacement and deformation that the U.S. East Coast rift volcanics had an anomalously-hot mantle source whose distribution beneath the lithosphere prior to rifting was long (the length of the margin) but not deep. We speculate that the distribution of this material was controlled by topography at the base of the lithosphere inherited from the Paleozoic collision of North America and Africa. Our analysis of the southwestern Alaska convergent margin is based on data from the 1994 Aleutian seismic experiment. The crust of most of Alaska has been built through terrane accretion and arc magmatism, and this experiment was conducted to study the evolution of continental crust through these processes. We consider transects across the westernmost Alaska Peninsula margin, where subduction is occurring beneath protocontinental crust composed of oceanic-arc terranes accreted in the Cretaceous, and across Bristol Bay in the back arc region where the crust has undergone a number of geologic events since accretion. Across the Peninsula, we find that the velocity structure of the accreted terranes differs little from that of the Cenozoic Aleutian oceanic-arc crust west of the Peninsula determined along another transect of this experiment. The accreted oceanicarc terranes are considerably more mafic than continental crust and the process of accretion has apparently not modified the bulk composition of these terranes toward that of average continental crust. It is possible that Cenozoic arc magmatism has been more felsic in composition than that which formed the accreted terranes and the Aleutian oceanic arc to the west, and that these magmas have been emplaced primarily within the crust inboard of the accreted terranes which lie south of the currently active arc. The geology of the Bristol Bay region suggests that the crustal components here had an origin similar to that of the Alaska Peninsula margin- that is, accreted terranes. We find, however, that the crust beneath Bristol Bay has a typically continental velocity structure. If this crust originally had a structure similar to the Alaska Peninsula margin, then at least two processes must have occured to affect the transformation to its current structure: crustal thickening and removal of the mafic lower crust. The geologic events that have affected this region since accretion are consistent with such and evolution.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution May 1997
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