Active foundering of a continental arc root beneath the southern Sierra Nevada in California

Nature. 2004 Sep 2;431(7004):41-6. doi: 10.1038/nature02847.


Seismic data provide images of crust-mantle interactions during ongoing removal of the dense batholithic root beneath the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in California. The removal appears to have initiated between 10 and 3 Myr ago with a Rayleigh-Taylor-type instability, but with a pronounced asymmetric flow into a mantle downwelling (drip) beneath the adjacent Great Valley. A nearly horizontal shear zone accommodated the detachment of the ultramafic root from its granitoid batholith. With continuing flow into the mantle drip, viscous drag at the base of the remaining approximately 35-km-thick crust has thickened the crust by approximately 7 km in a narrow welt beneath the western flank of the range. Adjacent to the welt and at the top of the drip, a V-shaped cone of crust is being dragged down tens of kilometres into the core of the mantle drip, causing the disappearance of the Moho in the seismic images. Viscous coupling between the crust and mantle is therefore apparently driving present-day surface subsidence.