Geophysical and geological data suggest that Tibetan middle crust is a partially molten, mechanically weak layer, but it is debated whether this low-viscosity layer is present beneath the entire plateau, what its properties are, how it deforms, and what role it has played in the plateau's evolution. Broad-band seismic surface waves yield resolution in the entire depth range of the Tibetan crust and can be used to constrain its shear-wave velocity structure (indicative of crustal composition, temperature and partial melting) and radial anisotropy (indicative of the patterns of deformation). We measured Love- and Rayleigh-wave phase-velocity curves in broad period ranges (up to 7–200 s) for a few tens of pairs and groups of stations across Tibet, combining, in each case, hundreds of interstation measurements, made with cross-correlation and waveform-inversion methods. Shear-velocity profiles were then determined by extensive series of non-linear inversions of the data, designed to constrain the depth-dependent ranges of isotropic-average shear speeds and radial anisotropy. Shear wave speeds within the Tibetan middle crust are anomalously low and, also, show strong lateral variations across the plateau. The lowest mid-crustal shear speeds are found in the north and west of the plateau (~3.1–3.2 km s –1 ), within a pronounced low-velocity zone. In southeastern Tibet, crustal shear wave speeds increase gradually towards southeast, whereas in the north, the change across the Kunlun Fault is relatively sharp. The lateral variations of shear speeds within the crust are indicative of those in temperature. A mid-crustal temperature of 800 °C, reported previously, can account for the low shear velocities across Lhasa. In the north, the temperature is higher and exceeds the solidus, resulting in partial melting that we estimate at 3–6 per cent. Strong radial anisotropy is required by the data in western-central Tibet (〉5 per cent) but not in northeastern Tibet. The amplitude of radial anisotropy in the crust does not correlate with isotropic-average shear speed (and, by inference, with crustal rock viscosity) or with surface elevation. Instead, radial anisotropy is related to the deformation pattern and is the strongest in regions experiencing extension (crustal flattening), as noted previously. The growth of Tibet by the addition of Indian crustal rocks into its crust from the south is reflected in the higher crustal seismic velocities (and, thus, lower temperatures) in the southern compared to northern parts of the plateau (more recently added rocks having had less time to undergo radioactive heating within the thickened Tibetan crust). Gravity-driven flattening—the basic cause of extension and normal faulting in the southern, western and central Tibet—is evidenced by pervasive radial anisotropy in the middle crust beneath the regions undergoing extension; the overall eastward flow of the crust is directed by the boundaries and motions of the lithospheric blocks that surround Tibet.
Oxford University Press
on behalf of
The Deutsche Geophysikalische Gesellschaft (DGG) and the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).