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Rayleigh wave phase-velocity heterogeneity and multilayered azimuthal anisotropy of the Superior Craton, Ontario



We study the azimuthally anisotropic upper-mantle structure of the Superior Craton and Grenville Province in Ontario, Canada, using Rayleigh wave phase-velocity data in the period range 40–160 s. 152 two-station dispersion measurements are combined in a tomographic inversion that solves simultaneously for isotropic and anisotropic terms using a least-squares technique. We perform a series of tests to derive optimal regularization (smoothing and damping) and to assess the resolution of, and trade-offs between, isotropic and anisotropic anomalies. The tomographic inversion is able to resolve isotropic phase-velocity anomalies on a scale of 200-300 km and to distinguish between different anisotropic regimes on a 500-km scale across the study region.

Isotropic phase-velocity anomalies in the tomographic model span a range of up to ±2 per cent around a regional average which is similar to the Canadian Shield dispersion curve of Brune & Dorman (1963), with phase velocities up to 3 per cent above global reference models. The amplitude of azimuthal phase-velocity anisotropy reaches a maximum of ∼1.2 per cent. A clear east–west division of the study area, based on both isotropic phase-velocity anomalies and azimuthal anisotropy, is apparent.

In the western Superior, isotropic phase velocities are generally higher than the regional average. Anisotropy is observed at all periods, with ENE–WSW to NE–SW fast-propagation directions. At periods ≤120 s, the anisotropy likely results from frozen lithospheric fabric aligned with tectonic boundaries, whereas the anisotropy at longer periods is interpreted to arise from present-day sublithospheric flow. The fast directions from published SKS measurements are close to the fast Rayleigh wave propagation directions throughout the period range sampled, and the large SKS splitting times may be accounted for by this near-coincidence of fast-propagation directions. Across most of eastern Ontario, phase velocities are lower than the regional average. Fast-propagation directions rotate from ∼NW–SE at 40–130 s period to WNW–ESE at periods 140–160 s. The results suggest a difference in fast-propagation directions between the anisotropic fabric frozen into the lithosphere and the fabric due to current and recent sublithospheric flow.

The Superior Craton and Grenville Province are characterized by large-scale structural variations that reflect the complex tectonic history of the region. This study highlights differences between the characteristics of eastern and western Ontario and indicates the occurrence of multiple layers of anisotropy in the subcratonic upper mantle.