Imaging lithospheric foundering in the structure of the Sierra Nevada

H. Gilbert, Y. Yang, D. W. Forsyth, C. H. Jones, T. J. Owens, G. Zandt, J. C. Stachnik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Tomographic studies of the mantle of southern California (USA) commonly found evidence for seismically high speed material, known as the Isabella anomaly, extending from near the base of the crust of the southwestern Sierra Nevada foothills into the asthenosphere. This anomaly has been interpreted to mark downwelling lithospheric material that had been removed from the southern Sierra Nevada. Using data from the Sierra Nevada EarthScope Project (SNEP) array, we investigate the lithosphere of the Sierra Nevada and surrounding region to better understand the process by which batholiths form dense lithospheric roots that become unstable and founder. Inverting phase velocities of fundamental mode Rayleigh waves for shear wave speeds provides observations of the distribution of high and low wave-speed anomalies, which correspond to portions of the batholith that formed an intact lithospheric root, and where seismically slower shallow asthenosphere marks areas where lithosphere has been removed. Our results corroborate previous observations that the southern Sierra Nevada has thin crust underlain by shallow asthenosphere. High shear wave velocity (Vs) material in the mantle beneath the southwestern foothills marks the location of the Isabella anomaly, to the east of which is a region of low Vs mantle where asthenosphere has risen to replace the delaminating root. Farther north, near the latitude of Long Valley, low velocities at shallow depths beneath the high elevations of the eastern Sierra indicate the presence of asthenosphere close to the base of the crust. Thicker high-speed material, however, underlies the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada at this latitude and dips to the east where it extends to depths of ~100 km or more, giving it the appearance of a portion of lithosphere that has detached from the east but remains attached to the west as it is currently peeling off. The structure of the Sierra Nevada changes near the latitude of Lake Tahoe, where thinner lithosphere extends between depths of 40 and 80 km, but does not reach greater depths. It appears that the lithospheric material of the Sierra Nevada from latitudes close to Lake Tahoe, and continuing to the north, is not being removed, indicating a change between the structure and evolution of the southern and northern Sierra Nevada.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1310-1330
Number of pages21
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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