Distinct crustal structure of the North American Midcontinent Rift from P wave receiver functions

Hao Zhang, Suzan van der Lee, Emily Wolin, Trevor A. Bollmann, Justin Revenaugh, Douglas A. Wiens, Andrew W. Frederiksen, Fiona A. Darbyshire, Ghassan I. Aleqabi, Michael E. Wysession, Seth Stein, Donna M. Jurdy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Eighty-two broadband seismic stations of the Superior Province Rifting Earthscope Experiment (SPREE) collected 2.5 years of continuous seismic data in the area of the high gravity anomaly associated with the Midcontinent Rift (MCR). Over 100 high-quality teleseismic earthquakes were used for crustal P wave receiver function analysis. Our analysis reveals that the base of the sedimentary layer is shallow outside the MCR, thickens near the flanks where gravity anomalies are low, and shallows again in the MCR's center where the gravity anomalies peak. This pattern is similar to that found from local geophysical studies and is consistent with reverse faulting having accompanied the cessation of rifting at 1.1 Ga. Intermittent intracrustal boundaries imaged by our analysis might represent the bottom of the MCR's mostly buried dense volcanic layers. Outside the MCR, the Moho is strong, sharp, and relatively flat, both beneath the Archean Superior Province and the Proterozoic terranes to its south. Inside the MCR, two weaker candidate Mohos are found at depths up to 25 km apart in the rift's center. The intermediate layer between these discontinuities tapers toward the edges of the MCR. The presence of this transitional layer is remarkably consistent along the strike of the MCR, including beneath its jog in southern Minnesota, near the Belle Plaine Fault. We interpret these results as evidence for extensive underplating as a defining characteristic of the rift, which remains continuous along the Minnesota jog, where due to its orientation, it is minimally affected by the reverse faulting that characterizes the NNE striking parts of the rift.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8136-8153
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the Editor Martha Savage and anonymous reviewers for insightful comments, which improve the manuscript dramatically. We thank all the landowners that hosted a SPREE seismic station and service crews on their land during 2.5?years (http://www.earth.northwestern.edu/spree/Welcome.html, and https://twitter.com/seismoSPREEDOM). All the SPREE data are available at IRIS-DMC (http://ds.iris.edu/ds/nodes/dmc/data/) and all the RFs derived in this study are available upon request. This research was funded by NSF grants EAR-0952345 to Van der Lee et al. and EAR-1148088 to Stein et al. We thank Bill Hinze, Will Levandowski, Weisen Shen, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments that improved the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
©2016. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • Mid-continent Rift
  • Moho
  • crustal structure
  • crustal transitional layer
  • receiver function

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