Mean crustal velocity: a critical parameter for interpreting crustal structure and crustal growth

Scott B. Smithson, Roy A. Johnson, Yun K. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Mean crustal velocity is a critical parameter for genesis of continental crystalline crust because it is a function of mean crustal composition and therefore may be used to resolve continental crustal growth in space and time. Although the best values of mean crustal velocity are determined from wide-angle reflection measurements, most studied here necessarily come from vertical averages in crustal refraction determinations. The mode of 158 values of mean crustal velocity is 6.3 km/s, a velocity which corresponds to a mean crustal composition of granodiorite to felsic quartz diorite; Archean crust may be slightly more mafic. Mean crustal velocities range from 5.8 to 7.0 km/s. The lowest values invariably are found in thermally disturbed rift zones and the highest values correspond to velocities in gabbro. Velocities in island arcs may be as low as 6.0 km/s but are typically 6.5-6.9 km/s which corresponds to andesitic composition; estimates of island arc composition are andesitic. If values of mean crustal velocity are not biased, this observation suggests that continental crust did not grow simply by addition of island arc material. Possibilities are that crust formed from fusion of island arcs and was later changed to more felsic composition by addition of material from the mantle or that the late Archean episode of major crustal growth did not involve processes similar to younger island arcs. Some crustal blocks might be changed in composition and thickness by such processes as underplating, interthrusting, necking and sub-crustal erosion. Specially designed experiments are suggested to determine this parameter so critical for understanding genesis of continental crust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)323-332
Number of pages10
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1981

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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