Lithospheric deformation in the Canadian Appalachians: evidence from shear wave splitting

Amy Gilligan, Ian D. Bastow, Emma Watson, Fiona A. Darbyshire, Vadim Levin, William Menke, Victoria Lane, David Hawthorn, Alistair Boyce, Mitchell V. Liddell, Laura Petrescu

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Plate-scale deformation is expected to impart seismic anisotropic fabrics on the lithosphere. Determination of the fast shear wave orientation (ϕ) and the delay time between the fast and slow split shear waves (δt) via SKS splitting can help place spatial and temporal constraints on lithospheric deformation. The Canadian Appalachians experienced multiple episodes of deformation during the Phanerozoic: accretionary collisions during the Palaeozoic prior to the collision between Laurentia and Gondwana, and rifting related to the Mesozoic opening of the North Atlantic. However, the extent to which extensional events have overprinted older orogenic trends is uncertain. We address this issue through measurements of seismic anisotropy beneath the Canadian Appalachians, computing shear wave splitting parameters (ϕ, δt) for new and existing seismic stations in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Average δt values of 1.2 s, relatively short length scale (≥100 km) splitting parameter variations, and a lack of correlation with absolute plate motion direction and mantle flow models, demonstrate that fossil lithospheric anisotropic fabrics dominate our results. Most fast directions parallel Appalachian orogenic trends observed at the surface, while δt values point towards coherent deformation of the crust and mantle lithosphere. Mesozoic rifting had minimal impact on our study area, except locally within the Bay of Fundy and in southern Nova Scotia, where fast directions are subparallel to the opening direction of Mesozoic rifting; associated δt values of >1 s require an anisotropic layer that spans both the crust and mantle, meaning the formation of the Bay of Fundy was not merely a thin-skinned tectonic event.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1273-1280
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number2
Early online date9 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by Leverhulme Trust research project grant RPG-2013-332. Imperial College Maritimes network stations were provided through Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Geophysical Equipment Facility loan 986. Logistical field support was provided by D. Heffler, D. Simpson, and residents of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Data for Portable Observatories for Lithospheric Analysis and Research Investigating Seismicity (POLARIS) and Canadian National Seismograph Network stations were downloaded from the Canadian National Data Centre. POLARIS stations were funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, Natural Resources Canada and Industry Canada. FD is supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada through the Discovery Grants and Canada Research Chair programmes. AB is funded by the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership: Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet. We thank Thomas Plenefisch and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on this manuscript.


  • Body waves
  • Continental tectonics: compressional
  • Continental tectonics: extensional
  • North America
  • Seismic anisotropy


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