Mid-mantle deformation inferred from seismic anisotropy
With time, convective processes in the Earth's mantle will tend to align crystals, grains and inclusions. This mantle fabric is detectable seismologically, as it produces an anisotropy in material properties—in particular, a directional dependence in seismic-wave velocity. This alignment is enhanced at the boundaries of the mantle where there are rapid changes in the direction and magnitude of mantle flow, and therefore most observations of anisotropy are confined to the uppermost mantle or lithosphere and the lowermost-mantle analogue of the lithosphere, the D" region. Here we present evidence from shear-wave splitting measurements for mid-mantle anisotropy in the vicinity of the 660-km discontinuity, the boundary between the upper and lower mantle. Deep-focus earthquakes in the Tonga–Kermadec and New Hebrides subduction zones recorded at Australian seismograph stations record some of the largest values of shear-wave splitting hitherto reported. The results suggest that, at least locally, there may exist a mid-mantle boundary layer, which could indicate the impediment of flow between the upper and lower mantle in this region.