Tectonic implications of the gravity signatures of the Midcontinent Rift and Grenville Front

Reece P. Elling, Seth Stein*, Carol A. Stein, G. Randy Keller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


North America's Midcontinent Rift (MCR) and Grenville Front (GF) jointly record aspects of the complex history of the assembly of Rodinia. The ~1100 Ma MCR, remaining from a failed major rifting event, is exposed along Lake Superior and well defined by gravity, magnetic, and seismic data. The GF, which results from collisions with Laurentia, is exposed in and identified by seismic and potential field data in Canada. In the eastern U.S., lineated gravity highs extending southward from Michigan to Alabama, along the trend of the front in Canada, have been interpreted either as a buried Grenville Front or as part of the MCR's east arm. We explore this issue by examining the gravity signatures of the MCR and GF. Both the MCR's arms have pronounced gravity highs, with the west arm's greater than the east arm's. Combining the gravity observations with seismic data suggests that the west arm contains 20–25 km thickness of volcanics, whereas the east arm contains 10–15 km of volcanics. Along the Grenville Front in Canada, thickened crust along the northern portion causes a broad gravity low, whereas the stacked thrusts along the southern portion cause essentially no gravity signature. Hence the lineated gravity highs in the eastern U.S. appear similar to those along the remainder of the MCR, and unlike those on either portion of the GF. These data favor the gravity anomalies traditionally interpreted as the Grenville Front in the eastern U.S. as instead being part of the MCR's east arm. A thrust sheet structure like that of the southern Canadian Grenville Front - which would have essentially no gravity effect - could also be present along the MCR's east arm, as implied by recent EarthScope seismic data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number228369
StatePublished - Mar 5 2020


  • Grenville Front
  • Midcontinent Rift

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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