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Electrical conductivity of the lithosphere-asthenosphere system

February 13, 2021

Electromagnetic geophysical methods image the electrical conductivity of the subsurface. Electrical conductivity is an intrinsic material property that is sensitive to temperature, composition, porosity, volatile and/or melt content, and other physical properties relevant to the solid Earth. Therefore, imaging the electrical structure of the crust and mantle yields valuable information on the physical and chemical state of the lithosphere-asthenosphere system.

Here we explore the viability of the passive magnetotelluric (MT) method for constraining upper mantle properties. We approach this problem in four successive steps: 1) review the electrical conductivity behavior of relevant materials; 2) predict the bulk electrical conductivity structure of oceanic and continental lithosphere for a suite of representative physical states; 3) generate synthetic MT data from the conductivity predictions; 4) compare and discuss the conductivity predictions and the synthetic data with select case studies from oceanic and continental settings. Our aim is to clarify the uncertainties associated with drawing inferences from electrical conductivity observations and ultimately to provide a basis for assigning confidence levels to interpretations.

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