Surface Wave Tomography Applied to the North American Upper Mantle

Suzan Van Der Lee*, Andrew Frederiksen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

50 Scopus citations


Tomographic techniques that invert seismic surface waves for 3-D Earth structure differ in their definitions of data and the forward problem as well as in the parameterization of the tomographic model. However, all such techniques have in common that the tomographic inverse problem involves solving a large and mixed-determined set of linear equations. Consequently these inverse problems have multiple solutions and inherently undefinable accuracy. Smoother and rougher tomographic models are found with rougher (confined to great circle path) and smoother (finite-width) sensitivity kernels, respectively. A powerful, well-tested method of surface wave tomography (Partitioned Waveform Inversion) is based on inverting the waveforms of wave trains comprising regional S and surface waves from at least hundreds of seismograms for 3-D variations in S wave velocity. We apply this method to nearly 1400 seismograms recorded by digital broadband seismic stations in North America. The new 3-D S-velocity model, NA04, is consistent with previous findings that are based on separate, overlapping data sets. The merging of US and Canadian data sets, adding Canadian recordings of Mexican earthquakes, and combining fundamental-mode with higher-mode waveforms provides superior resolution, in particular in the US-Canada border region and the deep upper mantle. NA04 shows that 1) the Atlantic upper mantle is seismically faster than the Pacific upper mantle, 2) the uppermost mantle beneath Precambrian North America could be one and a half times as rigid as the upper mantle beneath Meso- and Cenozoic North America, with the upper mantle beneath Paleozoic North America being intermediate in seismic rigidity, 3) upper-mantle structure varies laterally within these geologic-age domains, and 4) the distribution of high-velocity anomalies in the deep upper mantle aligns with lower mantle images of the subducted Farallon and Kula plates and indicate that trailing fragments of these subducted oceanic plates still reside in the transition zone. The thickness of the high-velocity layer beneath Precambrian North America is estimated to be 250 ± 70 km thick. On a smaller scale NA04 shows 1) high-velocities associated with subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the Aleutian arc, 2) the absence of expected high velocities in the upper mantle beneath the Wyoming craton, 3) a V-shaped dent below 150 km in the high-velocity cratonic lithosphere beneath New England, 4) the cratonic lithosphere beneath Precambrian North America being confined southwest of Baffin Bay, west of the Appalachians, north of the Ouachitas, east of the Rocky Mountains, and south of the Arctic Ocean, 5) the cratonic lithosphere beneath the Canadian shield having higher 5-velocities than that beneath Precambrian basement that is covered with Phanerozoic sediments, 6) the lowest S velocities are concentrated beneath the Gulf of California, northern Mexico, and the Basin and Range Province.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSeismic Earth
Subtitle of host publicationArray Analysis of Broadband Seismograms
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781118666333
ISBN (Print)087590422X, 9780875904221
StatePublished - Mar 19 2013


  • Seismic arrays
  • Seismograms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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