Ductile crustal flow in Europe's lithosphere

M. Tesauro, E.B. Burov, M.K. Kaban, S.A.P.L. Cloetingh

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Potential gravity theory (PGT) predicts the presence of significant gravity-induced horizontal stresses in the lithosphere associated with lateral variations in plate thickness and composition. New high resolution crustal thickness and density data provided by the EuCRUST-07 model are used to compute the associated lateral pressure gradients (LPG), which can drive horizontal ductile flow in the crust. Incorporation of these data in channel flow models allows us to use potential gravity theory to assess horizontal mass transfer and stress transmission within the European crust. We explore implications of the channel flow concept for a possible range of crustal strength, using end-member 'hard' and 'soft' crustal rheologies to estimate strain rates at the bottom of the ductile crustal layers. The models show that the effects of channel flow superimposed on the direct effects of plate tectonic forces might result in additional significant horizontal and vertical movements associated with zones of compression or extension. To investigate relationships between crustal and mantle lithospheric movements, we compare these results with the observed directions of mantle lithospheric anisotropy and GPS velocity vectors. We identify areas whose evolution could have been significantly affected by gravity-driven ductile crustal flow. Large values of the LPG are predicted perpendicular to the axes of European mountain belts, such as the Alps, Pyrenees-Cantabrian Mountains, Dinarides-Hellenic arc and Carpathians. In general, the crustal flow is directed away from orogens towards adjacent weaker areas. Gravitational forces directed from areas of high gravitational potential energy to subsiding basin areas can strongly reduce lithospheric extension in the latter, leading to a gradual late stage inversion of the entire system. Predicted pressure and strain rate gradients suggest that gravity driven flow may play an essential role in European intraplate tectonics. In particular, in a number of regions the predicted strain rates are comparable to tectonically induced strain rates. These results are also important for quantifying the thickness of the low viscosity zones in the lowermost part of the crustal layers. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number312
    Pages (from-to)254-265
    JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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