Reassessing the Thermal Structure of Oceanic Lithosphere With Revised Global Inventories of Basement Depths and Heat Flow Measurements
Half-space cooling and plate models of varying complexity have been proposed to account for changes in basement depth and heat flow as a function of lithospheric age in the oceanic realm. Here, we revisit this well-known problem by exploiting a revised and augmented database of 2028 measurements of depth to oceanic basement, corrected for sedimentary loading and variable crustal thickness, and 3597 corrected heat flow measurements. Joint inverse modeling of both databases shows that the half-space cooling model yields a mid-oceanic axial temperature that is >100°C hotter than permitted by petrologic constraints. It also fails to produce the observed flattening at old ages. Then, we investigate a suite of increasingly complex plate models and conclude that the optimal model requires incorporation of experimentally determined temperature- and pressure-dependent conductivity, expansivity and specific heat capacity, as well as a low conductivity crustal layer. This revised model has a mantle potential temperature of 1300 ± 50°C, which honors independent geochemical constraints and has an initial ridge depth of 2.6 ± 0.3 km with a plate thickness of 135 ± 30 km. It predicts that the maximum depth of intraplate earthquakes is bounded by the 700°C isothermal contour, consistent with laboratory creep experiments on olivine aggregates. Estimates of the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary derived from studies of azimuthal anisotropy coincide with the 1175 ± 50°C isotherm. The model can be used to isolate residual depth and gravity anomalies generated by flexural and sub-plate convective processes.
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