Tilting of continental interiors by the dynamical effects of subduction


  • J. X. Mitrovica,

  • C. Beaumont,

  • G. T. Jarvis


A mechanism is proposed to explain epeirogenic motions of craton interiors in terms of the response of the lithosphere to subduction. The effects of changes in sea level are distinguished from subsidence of the basement by analyzing the tilt of chronostratigraphic sequences in which the bounding horizons were deposited at approximately the same elevation with respect to sea level. As an example, the Late Cretaceous subsidence and Tertiary uplift of the western interior of North America is examined, and a maximum tilt amplitude of 3 km, with a horizontal deflection scale of approximately 1400 km, is inferred. The link between platform sedimentation and subduction is tested by using numerical models of mantle convection which mimic the subduction and by examining the horizontal scale of the deflections to the overlying lithosphere. It is found that this scale is relatively insensitive to the temperature contrast between the slab and the surrounding mantle, the flexural rigidity of the lithosphere, and even the physical process assumed to govern the subduction. The most important factor affecting the scale is the dip of the subduction zone, and shallower subduction angles (less than 45°) can produce horizontal deflections of the order of 1000 km or more. In contrast, the vertical scale of the deflection is sensitive to all the above parameters. Using these results, two subduction models are introduced which predict both the time and length scales of the North American tilt, and it is conjectured that the process may be responsible for other regions of platform subsidence where subducted lithosphere may have passed beneath the continent at a shallow angle.