Through a detailed analysis of seismicity at the base of the transition zone, we obtain an updated value of the maximum reliable depth of confirmed seismicity, we investigate regional variation in the maximum depth of seismicity among those Wadati-Benioff zones which reach the bottom of the transition zone, and we attempt to quantify the maximum possible rate of seismic release in the lower mantle compatible with the failure to detect even a single event since the advent of modern seismological networks. We classify deep subduction zones into three groups: those whose seismicity does not reach beyond 620 km, those whose seismicity appears to terminate around 650-660 km, and Tonga-Kermadec (and the 'Vityaz' cluster) whose seismicity extends to 685-690 km. We suggest that the depth extent of seismicity is controlled by the depth of the γ → pv + mw transition responsible for the '660-km' seismic discontinuity, which is deflected to greater depths in cold slabs than in warmer ones. We note that this transition marks the depth below which thermal perturbation of phase transitions no longer generates buoyancy anomalies and their large attendant down-dip compressive stresses and below which strain energy generated by other mechanisms may not accumulate to seismogenic levels due to superplastic weakness in fine-grained materials. We find that the maximum level of seismic activity in the lower mantle must be at least three orders of magnitude less than that observed in the transition zone.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology