The dynamics of western North America: stress magnitudes and the relative role of gravitational potential energy, plate interaction at the boundary and basal tractions

Flesch, L. M. and Holt, W. E. and Haines, A. J. and Wen, L. and Shen-Tu, B. (2007) The dynamics of western North America: stress magnitudes and the relative role of gravitational potential energy, plate interaction at the boundary and basal tractions. Geophysical Journal International, 169 (3). pp. 866-896. DOI

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We investigate the forces involved in driving long-term large-scale continental deformation in western North America, and quantify the vertically averaged deviatoric stress field arising from internal buoyancy forces and the accommodation of relative plate motions. In addition, we investigate the ability of regional models to resolve the level of tractions acting at the base of the lithosphere. We directly solve force-balance equations for vertically averaged deviatoric stresses associated with differences in values of 1/(lithospheric thickness) times the gravitational potential energy per unit area (GPE). The GPE values are inferred using both the ETOPO5 topographic data set and the CRUST2.0 crustal thickness model. Deviatoric stresses associated with basal tractions are calculated globally, with inputs determined from an isoviscous upper mantle (η= 1021 Pa s) 3-D large-scale convection model in which mantle density variations were inferred from tomographic data and the history of subduction. In a 211-parameter iterative inversion we then solve for a stress field boundary condition by fitting stress field indicators (i.e. the directions and relative magnitudes of the principal axes of kinematic strain rates). Magnitudes of the total vertically averaged deviatoric stress field (sum of GPE solution with the boundary condition solution) range from 5 to 10 MPa within a 100-km thick lithosphere. These magnitudes are calibrated by the GPE differences, along with the spatial variation in deformation style. There is a trade-off between the scaling of the basal traction deviatoric stress field and the boundary condition solution. However, the combined boundary conditions plus basal traction solution is robust (in both magnitude and style), and when added to the contribution from GPE differences provides a global minimum of misfit between the total deviatoric stress solution and the stress field indicators. GPE variations account for ∼50 per cent of the deviatoric stress magnitudes driving deformation, while boundary condition stresses account for the remaining ∼50 per cent of deviatoric stress magnitude. By comparing possible end-member strength profiles with our vertically averaged deviatoric stresses we infer that the bulk of the strength within the lithosphere in western North America lies within the brittle seismogenic layer.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 2007 AREP IA54 2007 P
Subjects: 02 - Geodynamics, Geophysics and Tectonics
Divisions: 02 - Geodynamics, Geophysics and Tectonics
Journal or Publication Title: Geophysical Journal International
Volume: 169
Page Range: pp. 866-896
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Sarah Humbert
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2009 13:02
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2013 10:07

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