Imaging Mantle Heterogeneity with Upper Mantle Seismic Discontinuities

  • Nicholas Schmerr
Part of the Springer Geophysics book series (SPRINGERGEOPHYS)


We use underside reflections of S wave seismic energy arriving as precursors to the seismic phase SS to image the depth and impedance contrast present across mantle discontinuities in the depth range of 230–380 km beneath the Pacific basin . A number of past studies have identified seismic discontinuities at these depths, known as the X-discontinuities, ascribing the interfaces to a variety of mineral physical mechanisms, including the coesite to stishovite phase transition , the formation of hydrous Phase A, and/or the reorganization of orthopyroxene into a C2/c monoclinic structure. Thus, the presence of the X-discontinuity (abbreviated here as the X) may be indicative of the nature of mantle heterogeneity. This study finds discontinuities associated with the X Pacific-wide, with SS precursory reflections present beneath the subduction, hot spots, and ridges. Where detected, the X is at an average depth of 293 ± 65 km and the precursor amplitudes indicate a mean shear impedance contrast of 2.3 ± 1.6 %. We model mantle heterogeneity by comparing the depth and the impedance contrasts at the X with predictions for seismic structure from a mineral physics model in which the mantle is considered to be a mechanically mixed bulk assemblage of subducted basalt and harzburgite. In this model, the average mantle composition of the Pacific is fit by a mixture of ~20 % basalt and 80 % harzburgite, roughly consistent with the bulk chemistry of mantle peridotite (18 % basalt, 82 % harzburgite). In some regions beneath the hot spots and subduction, there is evidence for a bulk chemistry enriched in basalt (basalt fraction ~30–35 %), lending evidence to the hypothesis that the mantle is laterally heterogeneous and that dynamics are stirring an enriched component, perhaps from the deep or shallow Earth, into the upper mantle.


SS precursors X-discontinuity Coesite Stishovite Mantle heterogeneity Basalt enrichment 



This work was supported by NSF-EAGER 1247608. The author wishes to thank the editor Amir Khan, as well as Sebastian Rost and 2 anonymous reviewers for providing extensive constructive feedback that greatly improved the quality of the manuscript.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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