Lower Crustal Composition in the Southwestern United States

L. G. Sammon, C. Gao, W. F. McDonough

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11 Citations (Scopus)


The composition of the lower continental crust is well studied but poorly understood because of the difficulty of sampling large portions of it. Petrological and geochemical analyses of this deepest portion of the continental crust are limited to the study of high-grade metamorphic lithologies, such as granulite. In situ lower crustal studies require geophysical experiments to determine regional-scale phenomena. Since geophysical properties, such as shear wave velocity (Vs), are nonunique among different compositions and temperatures, the most informative lower crustal models combine both geochemical and geophysical knowledge. We explored a combined modeling technique by analyzing the Basin and Range and Colorado Plateau of the United States, a region for which plentiful geochemical and geophysical data are available. By comparing seismic velocity predictions based on composition and thermodynamic principles to ambient noise inversions, we identified three compositional trends in the southwestern United States that reflect three different geologic settings. The Colorado Plateau (thick crust), Northern Basin and Range (medium crust), and Southern Basin and Range (thin crust) have intermediate, intermediate-mafic, and mafic deep crustal compositions. Identifying the composition of the lower crust depends heavily on its temperature because of the effect it has on rock mineralogy and physical properties. In this region, we see evidence for a lower crust that overall is intermediate-mafic in composition (53.7 (Formula presented.) 7.2 wt.% SiO (Formula presented.)) and notably displays a gradient of decreasing SiO (Formula presented.) with depth.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2019JB019011
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Mar 1


  • Basin and Range
  • Colorado Plateau
  • deep crust composition
  • granulite
  • lower crust


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