Upper mantle seismic anisotropy beneath the west antarctic rift system and surrounding region from shear wave splitting analysis

Natalie J. Accardo, Douglas A. Wiens, Stephen Hernandez, Richard C. Aster, Andrew Nyblade, Audrey Huerta, Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Terry Wilson, David S. Heeszel, Ian W.D. Dalziel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


We constrain azimuthal anisotropy in the West Antarctic upper mantle using shear wave splitting parameters obtained from teleseismic SKS, SKKS and PKS phases recorded at 37 broad-band seismometres deployed by the POLENET/ANET project. We use an eigenvalue technique to linearize the rotated and shifted shear wave horizontal particle motions and determine the fast direction and delay time for each arrival. High-quality measurements are stacked to determine the best fitting splitting parameters for each station. Overall, fast anisotropic directions are oriented at large angles to the direction of Antarctic absolute plate motion in both hotspot and no-net-rotation frameworks, showing that the anisotropy does not result from shear due to plate motion over the mantle. Further, the West Antarctic directions are substantially different from those of East Antarctica, indicating that anisotropy across the continent reflects multiple mantle regimes. We suggest that the observed anisotropy along the central Transantarctic Mountains (TAM) and adjacent West Antarctic Rift System (WARS), one of the largest zones of extended continental crust on Earth, results from asthenospheric mantle strain associated with the final pulse of western WARS extension in the late Miocene. Strong and consistent anisotropy throughout the WARS indicate fast axes subparallel to the inferred extension direction, a result unlike reports from the East African rift system and rifts within the Basin and Range, which show much greater variation. We contend that ductile shearing rather than magmatic intrusion may have been the controlling mechanism for accumulation and retention of such coherent, widespread anisotropic fabric. Splitting beneath the Marie Byrd Land Dome (MBL) is weaker than that observed elsewhere within the WARS, but shows a consistent fast direction, possibly representative of anisotropy that has been 'frozen-in' to remnant thicker lithosphere. Fast directions observed inland from the Amundsen Sea appear to be radial to the dome and may indicate radial horizontal mantle flow associated with an MBL plume head and low upper mantle velocities in this region, or alternatively to lithospheric features associated with the complex Cenozoic tectonics at the far-eastern end of the WARS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)414-429
Number of pages16
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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