Orogenic lithosphere and slabs in the greater Alpine area - interpretations based on teleseismic P-wave tomography
- Journal Article
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Based on recent results of AlpArray, we propose a new model of Alpine collision that involves subduction and detachment of thick (∼ 180 km) European lithosphere. Our approach combines teleseismic P-wave tomography and existing local earthquake tomography (LET), allowing us to image the Alpine slabs and their connections with the overlying orogenic lithosphere at an unprecedented resolution. The images call into question the conventional notion that downward-moving lithosphere and slabs comprise only seismically fast lithosphere. We propose that the European lithosphere is heterogeneous, locally containing layered positive and negative Vp anomalies of up to 5 %–6 %. We attribute this layered heterogeneity to seismic anisotropy and/or compositional differences inherited from the Variscan and pre-Variscan orogenic cycles rather than to thermal anomalies. The lithosphere–asthenosphere boundary (LAB) of the European Plate therefore lies below the conventionally defined seismological LAB. In contrast, the lithosphere of the Adriatic Plate is thinner and has a lower boundary approximately at the base of strong positive Vp anomalies at 100–120 km. Horizontal and vertical tomographic slices reveal that beneath the central and western Alps, the European slab dips steeply to the south and southeast and is only locally still attached to the Alpine lithosphere. However, in the eastern Alps and Carpathians, this slab is completely detached from the orogenic crust and dips steeply to the north to northeast. This along-strike change in attachment coincides with an abrupt decrease in Moho depth below the Tauern Window, the Moho being underlain by a pronounced negative Vp anomaly that reaches eastward into the Pannonian Basin area. This negative Vp anomaly is interpreted as representing hot upwelling asthenosphere that heated the overlying crust, allowing it to accommodate Neogene orogen-parallel lateral extrusion and thinning of the ALCAPA tectonic unit (upper plate crustal edifice of Alps and Carpathians) to the east. A European origin of the northward-dipping, detached slab segment beneath the eastern Alps is likely since its down-dip length matches estimated Tertiary shortening in the eastern Alps accommodated by originally south-dipping subduction of European lithosphere. A slab anomaly beneath the Dinarides is of Adriatic origin and dips to the northeast. There is no evidence that this slab dips beneath the Alps. The slab anomaly beneath the Northern Apennines, also of Adriatic origin, hangs subvertically and is detached from the Apenninic orogenic crust and foreland. Except for its northernmost segment where it locally overlies the southern end of the European slab of the Alps, this slab is clearly separated from the latter by a broad zone of low Vp velocities located south of the Alpine slab beneath the Po Basin. Considered as a whole, the slabs of the Alpine chain are interpreted as highly attenuated, largely detached sheets of continental margin and Alpine Tethyan oceanic lithosphere that locally reach down to a slab graveyard in the mantle transition zone (MTZ). Show more
Journal / seriesSolid Earth
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