Evidence for Stress Localization Caused by Lithospheric Heterogeneity From Seismic Attenuation

Zhao Zhu, Maximiliano J. Bezada, Joseph S Byrnes, Heather A. Ford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The Wyoming Craton underwent tectonic modifications during the Laramide Orogeny, which resulted in a series of basement-cored uplifts that built the modern-day Rockies. The easternmost surface expression of this orogeny - the Black Hills in South Dakota - is separated from the main trend of the Rocky Mountains by the southern half of the Powder River Basin, which we refer to as the Thunder Basin. Seismic tomography studies reveal a high-velocity anomaly which extends to a depth of ∼300 km below the basin and may represent a lithospheric keel. We constrain seismic attenuation to investigate the hypothesis that variations in lithospheric thickness resulted in the localization of stress and therefore deformation. We utilize data from the CIELO seismic array, a linear array that extends from east of the Black Hills across the Thunder Basin and westward into the Owl Creek Mountains, the BASE FlexArray deployment centered on the Bighorn Mountains, and the EarthScope Transportable Array. We analyze seismograms from deep teleseismic events and compare waveforms in the time-domain to characterize lateral variations in attenuation. Bayesian inversion results reveal high attenuation in the Black Hills and Bighorn Mountains and low attenuation in the Thunder and Bighorn Basins. Scattering is rejected as a confounding factor because of a strong anticorrelation between attenuation and the amplitude of P wave codas. The results support the hypothesis that lateral variations in lithospheric strength, as evidenced by our seismic attenuation measurements, played an important role in the localization of deformation and orogenesis during the Laramide Orogeny.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021GC009987
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the National Science Foundation (EAR‐1944998, EAR‐1827277), University of Minnesota (Proposal 325013), and University of California, Riverside (Regents Faculty Fellowship). We would like to thank Geoffrey Abers and one anonymous reviewer for their meticulous editing suggestions and Hanlin Liu for frequent discussion over this project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors.


  • Bayesian inversion
  • Laramide Orogeny
  • seismic attenuation
  • seismic imaging


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