Seismic imaging of the magmatic underpinnings beneath the Altiplano-Puna volcanic complex from the joint inversion of surface wave dispersion and receiver functions

Kevin M. Ward, George Zandt, Susan L. Beck, Douglas H. Christensen, Heather McFarlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


Located in the central Andes, the Altiplano-Puna Volcanic Complex (APVC) is the location of an 11-1 Ma silicic volcanic field, one of the largest and youngest on Earth. Yet its magmatic/plutonic underpinnings have been seismically investigated in only a few widely spaced locations. Previous studies have identified an extensive (~60,000 km2) low-velocity zone (LVZ) below the APVC referred to as the Altiplano-Puna Magma Body (APMB); however, insufficient seismic constraints have precluded uniquely measuring its thickness, and the volume of the APMB remains mostly constrained by varying estimates of plutonic to volcanic (P:V) ratios. Here we present new 3-D seismic images of the APVC crust based on a joint inversion of Rayleigh-wave dispersion from ambient seismic noise and P-wave receiver functions from broadband seismic stations recently deployed in the area. We identify a large ~200 km diameter and ~11 km thick LVZ that we interpret as the plutonic complex that sourced the voluminous APVC volcanics and show that its volume is much larger than previous estimates, perhaps as much as an order of magnitude larger. The large volume (~500,000 km3) and shallow depth (4-25 km below sea level) of the LVZ centered on the observed surface uplift below the composite volcano Uturuncu provide strong evidence linking our imaged low-velocity body (APMB) with the presence of an amalgamated plutonic complex. We suggest the APMB retains a significant percentage (up to 25%) of partial melt, most likely in a melt-crystal mush state, and is related to the source of the continued ground deformation attributed to magma ascent beneath the APVC. The seismic imaging of this plutonic complex and the well-preserved and documented volcanic deposits allow us to make one of the best-constrained calculations of a plutonic to volcanic ratio. Although this calculation is still dependent on a few critical assumptions, the large volume of the newly imaged APMB requires a much larger ratio (20-35) than often cited in the literature. This large ratio has significant implications for both petrologic and tectonic models of this portion of the Andean arc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-53
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Oct 15 2014


  • Central Andes
  • Crustal structure
  • Joint inversion
  • Receiver functions
  • Seismic tomography
  • Surface waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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