Collaborative Research: Evaluating the roles of melt migration and mantle flow in lithospheric evolution: the Colorado Plateau as a geodynamic laboratory for Earthscope

Lead PI: Dr. Ben Holtzman , James Gaherty

Unit Affiliation: Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

May 2010 - July 2013
North America ; Colorado Plateau
Project Type: Research Outreach

DESCRIPTION: One of the fundamental discoveries that the scientific community hopes EarthScope will help achieve is a clearer picture of the "shape" of the North American plate; that is, a measurement of lithosphere thickness and an understanding of the spatial variability in both the thermal and chemical properties of the plate. The base of the lithosphere is an elusive boundary that does not coincide with an easily imaged seismic discontinuity. As data from the USArray component of EarthScope are analyzed to construct seismic models of the upper mantle beneath the tectonically active western US, an important goal for the scientific community is to interpret seismic observations in terms of the structure and dynamics of the plate-mantle interface. A fundamental ambiguity that plagues seismic interpretations is the relative importance of temperature, composition, and fluids (e.g., melt) in controlling the isotropic and anisotropic seismic structure of the upper mantle. This project is developing physics-based models of deformation at the base of the North American plate that can be used to help interpret seismic observations. The project is providing important training for a graduate student in building quantitative models of the Earth and is broadening participation of underrepresented groups in the earth sciences. The combination of fluid dynamics and the experimentally based phenomenology developed here is an innovation that can be generalized to other geodynamic settings. Because the structure and evolution of North America and the CP in particular is of broad public interest, the PIs will produce compelling images from seismic observations, models and interpretive illustrations with pedagogical intent. These images will be utilized in public education and outreach (as well as scientific publications) at museums and national parks in the Southwest, New York and elsewhere.

OUTCOMES: One article in press. Eight other publications.


National Science Foundation (NSF)




Mousumi Roy


Penn State



Benjamin Holtzman, Daniel King and David Kohlstedt. "Effects of stress-driven melt segregation on the viscosity of rocks," Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v.359-360, 2013, p. 184.


mantle flow thermal interactions asthenosphere attenuation mechanical interactions melt migration seismology geology and tectonics lithosphere chemical interactions seismology


Earth fundamentals