Vertical mantle flow associated with a lithospheric drip beneath the Great Basin

John D. West, Matthew J. Fouch, Jeffrey B. Roth, Linda T. Elkins-Tanton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Rapid surface uplift or subsidence and voluminous magmatic activity have often been ascribed to regional-scale downwelling of lithospheric mantle. However, because lithospheric dripssinking plumes of cold and dense lithosphereare relatively small and transient features, direct evidence of their existence has been difficult to obtain. Moreover, the significant vertical mantle flow that should be associated with such structures has not been detected. Here we integrate seismic anisotropy data with tomographic images to identify and describe a lithospheric drip beneath the Great Basin region of the western United States. The feature is characterized by a localized cylindrical core of cooler material with fast seismic velocities and mantle flow that rapidly shifts from horizontal to vertical. Our numerical experiments suggest that the drip can be generated by gravitational instability resulting from a density anomaly of as little as 1% and a localized temperature increase of 10%. The drip tilts to the northeastopposite to the motion of the North American plate in the hotspot reference frameand thereby indicates northeast-directed regional mantle flow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-444
Number of pages6
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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