A unified continental thickness from seismology and diamonds suggests a melt-defined plate

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Abstract

Thick, rigid continents move over the weaker underlying mantle, although geophysical and geochemical constraints on the exact thickness and defining mechanism of the continental plates are widely discrepant. Xenoliths suggest a chemical continental lithosphere ~175 kilometers thick, whereas seismic tomography supports a much thicker root (>250 kilometers) and a gradual lithosphere-asthenosphere transition, consistent with a thermal definition. We modeled SS precursor waveforms from continental interiors and found a 7 to 9% velocity drop at depths of 130 to 190 kilometers. The discontinuity depth is well correlated with the origin depths of diamond-bearing xenoliths and corresponds to the transition from coarse to deformed xenoliths. At this depth, the xenolith-derived geotherm also intersects the carbonate-silicate solidus, suggesting that partial melt defines the plate boundaries beneath the continental interior.

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