Ambient noise tomography reveals basalt and sub-basalt velocity structure beneath the Faroe Islands, North Atlantic

Carmelo Sammarco, David G. Cornwell, Nicholas Rawlinson

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Ambient noise tomography is applied to seismic data recorded by a portable array of seismographs deployed throughout the Faroe Islands in an effort to illuminate basalt sequences of the North Atlantic Igneous Province, as well as underlying sedimentary layers and Precambrian basement. Rayleigh wave empirical Green’s functions between all station pairs are extracted from the data via cross-correlation of long-term recordings, with phase weighted stacking implemented to boost signal-to-noise ratio. Dispersion analysis is applied to extract inter-station group travel-times in the period range 0.5–15 s, followed by inversion for period-dependent group velocity maps. Subsequent inversion for 3-D shear wave velocity reveals the presence of significant lateral heterogeneity (up to 25%) in the crust. Main features of the final model include: (i) a near-surface low velocity layer, interpreted to be the Malinstindur Formation, which comprises subaerial compound lava flows with a weathered upper surface; (ii) a sharp velocity increase at the base of the Malinstindur Formation, which may mark a transition to the underlying Beinisvørð Formation, a thick laterally extensive layer of subaerial basalt sheet lobes; (iii) a low velocity layer at 2.5–7.0 km depth beneath the Beinisvørð Formation, which is consistent with hyaloclastites of the Lopra Formation; (iv) an upper basement layer between depths of 5–9 km and characterized by S wave velocities of approximately 3.2 km/s, consistent with low-grade metamorphosed sedimentary rocks; (v) a high velocity basement, with S wave velocities in excess of 3.6 km/s. This likely reflects the presence of a crystalline mid-lower crust of Archaean continental origin. Compared to previous interpretations of the geological structure beneath the Faroe Islands, our new results point to a more structurally complex and laterally heterogeneous crust, and provide constraints which may help to understand how continental fragments are rifted from the margins of newly forming ocean basins.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
Early online date19 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

The Faroe Islands Passive Seismological Experiment (FIPSE) was funded by Sindri (contract C46-52-01) and formed a collaborative project between Dr. David Cornwell, Prof. Richard England (University of Leicester) and Prof. Graham Stuart (University of Leeds). Seismological equipment was loaned from the NERC geophysical equipment facility (GEF, loan 918), with field assistance from David Hawthorn and data processing assistance from Victoria Lane (SEIS-UK). We acknowledge the help, advice and support of Jarðfeingi, especially Thomas Varming, Uni Petersen, Bartal Højgaard, Romica Øster and Heri Ziska. Rannvá M. Arge and Magni Jøkladal are thanked for their assistance with fieldwork. Research undertaken in this article was supported by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, via a Collaborative Research Grant. Rosie Fletcher is thanked for her comments, which greatly improved the text.


  • Seismic tomography
  • Ambient seismic noise
  • North Atlantic
  • Crustal structure


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