The closure of ancient oceans created a dynamic setting suitable for craton formation via the thickening of continental material over a mantle downwelling. This process subjected the thickening lithosphere to extensive deformation, forming internal structure that can be preserved over the lifetime of the craton. Recent seismic imaging of cratonic lithosphere has led to observations of anomalous features colloquially known as midlithospheric discontinuities. These discontinuities are attributed to a range of sources, including the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary, melt accumulation, and phase transitions. However, the internal structure imaged within these cratons might be reflective of their formation. In particular, the orientation and nature of the variable depths of the midlithospheric discontinuities suggest a more complicated origin such as that which could be introduced during the formation and thickening phase of cratonic lithosphere. Here, we present geodynamic models demonstrating the internal structures produced during the formation of cratonic lithosphere as well as new seismological observations of midlithospheric discontinuities in the West African craton, together with reassessment of midlithospheric discontinuities observed in the North American, South African, Fennoscandia, and Australian cratons. We suggest that the midlithospheric discontinuities observed in these cratons could be remnants of deformation structures produced during the formation of the cratons after ancient oceans closed.
- Received 3 September 2013.
- Revision received 2 December 2013.
- Accepted 17 December 2013.
- © 2014 Geological Society of America