Deep electrical resistivity structure of the Northwestern U. S. derived from 3-D inversion of USArray Magnetotelluric data

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  • Long period (10–20,000 s) magnetotelluric (MT) data are being acquired across the continental USA on a quasi-regular grid of ∼70 km spacing as an electromagnetic component of the National Science Foundation EarthScope/USArray Program. These data are sensitive to fluids, melts, and other organic indicators, and thus provide a valuable complement to other components of EarthScope. We present and interpret results of 3-D MT data inversion from 325 sites acquired from 2006–2011 to provide a regional scale view of electrical resistivity from the middle crust to nearly the mantle transition zone, covering an area from NW Washington to NW Colorado. Beneath the active extensional subprovinces in the south-central region, on average we see a resistive upper crust, and then extensive areas of low resistivity in the lower crust and uppermost mantle. Further below, much of the upper half of the upper mantle appears moderately resistive, then subsequently the lower upper mantle becomes moderately conductive. This column suggests a dynamic process of moderately hydrated and fertile deeper upper mantle upwelling during extension, intersection of that material with the damp solidus causing dehydration and melting, and upward exodus of generated mafic melts to pond and exsolve saline fluids near Moho levels. Lithosphere here is very thin. To the east and northeast, thick sections of resistive lithosphere are imaged under the Wyoming and Medicine Hat Cratons. These are punctuated with numerous electrically conductive sutures presumably containing graphitic or sulfide-bearing meta-sediments deeply underthrust and emplaced during ancient collisions. Below Cascadia, the subducting Juan de Fuca and Gorda lithosphere appears highly resistive. Suspected oceanic lithosphere relicts in the central NW part of the model domain also are resistive, including the accreted “Siletzia” terrane beneath the Coast Ranges and Columbia Embayment, and the seismically fast “slab curtain” beneath eastern Idaho interpreted by others as stranded Farallon plate. Upwelling of deep fluid or melt in the Cascade volcanic arc region manifests as conductive features at several scales. These include quasi-horizontal conductive patches under the arc and fore-arc, likely denoting fluids evolved via breakdown of hydrous minerals in the current down-going slab. In the backarc, low resistivities concentrate in “plumes” connecting into a deeper aesthenospheric layer to the east, consistent with subduction-driven upwelling of hot, hydrated or melted, aesthenospheric mantle. Low resistivities (<10 Ωm) deep beneath the stable cratons suggest higher levels of hydration there, and/or influence of poorly resolved structures outside the array.
  • Keywords: Magnetotellurics, Tectonics, Electrical resistivity, Pacific NW, USArray
  • Keywords: Magnetotellurics, Tectonics, Electrical resistivity, Pacific NW, USArray
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  • Meqbel, N. M., Egbert, G. D., Wannamaker, P. E., Kelbert, A., & Schultz, A. (2014). Deep electrical resistivity structure of the Northwestern U.S. derived from 3-D inversion of USArray Magnetotelluric data. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 402, 290-304. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2013.12.026
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  • 402
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  • G.D. Egbert, N.M. Meqbel and A. Kelbert were supported by NSF grant EAR1053628, and DOE grant DE-FG02-06ER15819. P.E. Wannamaker was funded by NSF grant EAR08-43725 under the EarthScope program. A. Schultz was supported by Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) subcontract 75-MT, under National Science Foundation Cooperative Agreement No. EAR-0733069. Data from the TA network are made freely available as part of the EarthScope USArray facility (, operated by Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and supported by the National Science Foundation, under Cooperative Agreements EAR-0323309, EAR-0323311, EAR-0733069. The main inversion results were accomplished using computation resources of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam.
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