Articles | Volume 3, issue 2
Research article
08 Aug 2012
Research article |  | 08 Aug 2012

Global distribution of the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary: a new look

V. M. Hamza and F. P. Vieira

Abstract. New global maps of the depth to the boundary between the lithosphere and the asthenosphere are presented. The maps are based on updated global databases for heat flow and crustal structure. For continental regions the estimates of lithospheric thickness are based on determinations of subcrustal heat flow, after corrections for contributions of radiogenic heat in crustal layers. For oceanic regions the estimates of lithospheric thickness are based on the newly proposed finite half-space (FHS) model. Unlike the half-space cooling (HSC) and the plate models the FHS model takes into account effects of buffered solidification at the lower boundary of the lithosphere and assumes that the vertical domain for downward growth of the boundary layer have an asymptotic limit. Results of numerical simulations reveal that theoretical values derived from the FHS model provide vastly improved fits to observational data for heat flow and bathymetry than can be achieved with HSC and plate models. Also, the data fits are valid for the entire age range of the oceanic lithosphere. Hence estimates of depths to lithosphere- asthenosphere boundary (LAB) based on the FHS model are believed to provide more reliable estimates than those reported in previous thermal models.

The global maps of depths to LAB derived in the present work reveal several features in regional variations of lithosphere thicknesses that have not been identified in earlier studies. For example, regions of ocean floor with ages less than 55 Ma are characterized by relatively rapid thickening of the lithosphere. Also there is better resolution in mapping the transition from oceanic to continental lithosphere, as most of the latter ones are characterized by lithospheric thickness greater than 150 km. As expected the plate spreading centers in oceanic regions as well as areas of recent magmatic activity in continental regions are characterized by relatively thin lithosphere, with LAB depths of less than 50 km. On the other hand, the areas of continental collisions and Precambrian cratonic blocks are found to have lithosphere thicknesses in excess of 250 km. Regional variations of lithosphere thickness in the interiors of continents are found to depend on the magnitude of subcrustal heat flux as well as the tectonic age of crustal blocks.