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Magnetotelluric imaging of lower crustal melt and lithospheric hydration in the Rocky Mountain Front transition zone, Colorado, USA

November 6, 2017

We present an electrical resistivity model of the crust and upper mantle from two‐dimensional (2‐D) anisotropic inversion of magnetotelluric data collected along a 450 km transect of the Rio Grande rift, southern Rocky Mountains, and High Plains in Colorado, USA. Our model provides a window into the modern‐day lithosphere beneath the Rocky Mountain Front to depths in excess of 150 km. Two key features of the 2‐D resistivity model are (1) a broad zone (~200 km wide) of enhanced electrical conductivity (<20 Ωm) in the midcrust to lower crust that is centered beneath the highest elevations of the southern Rocky Mountains and (2) hydrated lithospheric mantle beneath the Great Plains with water content in excess of 100 ppm. We interpret the high conductivity region of the lower crust as a zone of partially molten basalt and associated deep‐crustal fluids that is the result of recent (less than 10 Ma) tectonic activity in the region. The recent supply of volatiles and/or heat to the base of the crust in the late Cenozoic implies that modern‐day tectonic activity in the western United States extends to at least the western margin of the Great Plains. The transition from conductive to resistive upper mantle is caused by a gradient in lithospheric modification, likely including hydration of nominally anhydrous minerals, with maximum hydration occurring beneath the Rocky Mountain Front. This lithospheric “hydration front” has implications for the tectonic evolution of the continental interior and the mechanisms by which water infiltrates the lithosphere.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title Magnetotelluric imaging of lower crustal melt and lithospheric hydration in the Rocky Mountain Front transition zone, Colorado, USA
DOI 10.1002/2017JB014474
Authors D. W. Feucht, Anne F Sheehan, Paul A. Bedrosian
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
Series Number
Index ID 70209685
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center