Seismic Imaging of the North American Midcontinent Rift Using S-to-P Receiver Functions

Ben Chichester*, Catherine Rychert, Nicholas Harmon, Suzan van der Lee, Andrew Frederiksen, Hao Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


North America's ~1.1-Ga failed Midcontinent Rift (MCR) is a striking feature of gravity and magnetic anomaly maps across the continent. However, how the rift affected the underlying lithosphere is not well understood. With data from the Superior Province Rifting Earthscope Experiment and the USArray Transportable Array, we constrain three-dimensional seismic velocity discontinuity structure in the lithosphere beneath the southwestward arm of the MCR using S-to-P receiver functions. We image a velocity increase with depth associated with the Moho at depths of 33–40 ± 4 km, generally deepening toward the east. The Moho amplitude decreases beneath the rift axis in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where the velocity gradient is more gradual, possibly due to crustal underplating. We see hints of a deeper velocity increase at 61 ± 4-km depth that may be the base of underplating. Beneath the rift axis further south in Iowa, we image two distinct positive phases at 34–39 ± 4 and 62–65 ± 4 km likely related to an altered Moho and an underplated layer. We image velocity decreases with depth at depths of 90–190 ± 7 km in some locations that do not geographically correlate with the rift. These include a discontinuity at depths of 90–120 ± 7 km with a northerly dip in the south that abruptly deepens to 150–190 ± 7 km across the Spirit Lake Tectonic Zone provincial suture. The negative phases may represent a patchy, frozen-in midlithosphere discontinuity feature that likely predates the MCR and/or be related to lithospheric thickness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7791-7805
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • MLD
  • Midcontinent Rift
  • crustal underplating
  • receiver functions
  • rifting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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