Seismic anisotropy of Precambrian lithosphere: Insights from Rayleigh wave tomography of the eastern Superior Craton

Laura Petrescu*, Fiona Darbyshire, Ian Bastow, Eoghan Totten, Amy Gilligan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
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The thick, seismically fast lithospheric keels underlying continental cores (cratons) are thought to have formed in the Precambrian and resisted subsequent tectonic destruction. A consensus is emerging from a variety of disciplines that keels are vertically stratified, but the processes that led to their development remain uncertain. Eastern Canada is a natural laboratory to study Precambrian lithospheric formation and evolution. It comprises the largest Archean craton in the world, the Superior Craton, surrounded by multiple Proterozoic orogenic belts. To investigate its lithospheric structure, we construct a frequency-dependent anisotropic seismic model of the region using Rayleigh waves from teleseismic earthquakes recorded at broadband seismic stations across eastern Canada. The joint interpretation of phase velocity heterogeneity and azimuthal anisotropy patterns reveals a seismically fast and anisotropically complex Superior Craton. The upper lithosphere records fossilized Archean tectonic deformation: anisotropic patterns align with the orientation of the main tectonic boundaries at periods ≤110 s. This implies that cratonic blocks were strong enough to sustain plate-scale deformation during collision at 2.5 Ga. Cratonic lithosphere with fossil anisotropy partially extends beneath adjacent Proterozoic belts. At periods sensitive to the lower lithosphere, we detect fast, more homogenous, and weakly anisotropic material, documenting postassembly lithospheric growth, possibly in a slow or stagnant convection regime. A heterogeneous, anisotropic transitional zone may also be present at the base of the keel. The detection of multiple lithospheric fabrics at different periods with distinct tectonic origins supports growing evidence that cratonization processes may be episodic and are not exclusively an Archean phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3754-3775
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number5
Early online date13 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2017

Bibliographical note

The seismic data used in this study are freely available from the CNDC (Canadian National Data Centre for Earthquake Seismology and Nuclear Explosion Monitoring) and IRIS DMC (Data Management Center) via their data request tools. The Leverhulme Trust (grant RPG-2013-332) and National Science Foundation are acknowledged for financial support. L.P. is supported by Janet Watson Imperial College Department Scholarship and the Romanian Government Research Grant NUCLEU. F.D. is supported by NSERC through the Discovery Grants and Canada Research Chairs program. We also thank two anonymous reviewers and the Associate Editor for insightful comments that helped improve the manuscript.


  • anisotropy
  • keel formation
  • lithospheric stratification
  • Precambrian
  • Superior Craton
  • surface wave tomography


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