Crustal structure across the Costa Rican Volcanic Arc



[1] Island arcs are proposed to be essential building blocks for the crustal growth of continents; however, island arcs and continents are fundamentally different in bulk composition: mafic and felsic, respectively. The substrate upon which arcs are built (oceanic crust versus large igneous province) may have a strong influence on crustal genesis. We present results from an across-arc wide-angle seismic survey of the Costa Rican volcanic front which test the hypothesis that juvenile continental crust is actively forming at this location. Travel-time tomography constrains velocities in the upper arc to a depth of ~15 km where average velocities are <6.5 km/s. The upper 5 km of crust is constrained by velocities between 4.0 and 5.5 km/s, which likely represent sediments, volcaniclastics, flows, and small intrusions. Between 5 and 15 km depth, velocities increase slowly from 5.5 to 6.5 km/s. Crustal thickness and lower crustal velocities are roughly constrained by reflections from an inferred crust-mantle transition zone. Crustal thickness beneath the volcanic front in Costa Rica is ~40 km with best-fit average lower-crustal velocities between 6.8 and 7.1 km/s. Overall, velocities across the arc in central Costa Rica are at the high-velocity extreme of bulk continental crust velocities and are lower than modern island arc velocities, suggesting that continental compositions are created at this location. These data suggest that preexisting thick crust of the Caribbean Large Igneous Province has a measurable effect on bulk composition. This thickened arc crust may be a density filter for mafic material and thereby support differentiation toward continental compositions.