Duesterhoeft et al. 2012; Journal of Geophysical Research


Erik Duesterhoeft, Romain Bousquet, Henry Wichura, Roland Oberhänsli

Away from active plate boundaries the relationships between spatiotemporal variations in density and geothermal gradient are important for understanding the evolution of topography in continental interiors. In this context the classic concept of the continental lithosphere as comprising three static layers of different densities (upper crust, lower crust, and upper mantle) is not adequate to assess long-term changes in topography and relief in regions associated with pronounced thermal anomalies in the mantle. We have therefore developed a one-dimensional model, which is based on thermodynamic equilibrium assemblage computations and deliberately excludes the effects of melting processes like intrusion or extrusions. Our model calculates the “metamorphic density” of rocks as a function of pressure, temperature, and chemical composition. It not only provides a useful tool for quantifying the influence of petrologic characteristics on density, but also allows the modeled “metamorphic” density to be adjusted to variable geothermal gradients and applied to different geodynamic environments. We have used this model to simulate a scenario in which the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary is subjected to continuous heating over a long period of time (130 Ma), and demonstrate how an anorogenic plateau with an elevation of 1400 m can be formed solely as a result of heat transfer within the continental lithosphere. Our results show that, beside dynamic topography (of asthenospheric origin), density changes within the lithosphere have an important impact on the evolution of anorogenic plateaus.

Copyright © 2012 American Geophysical Union. All rights reserved.

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