Lithospheric structure of the Rio Grande rift

David Wilson, Richard Aster, Michael West, James Ili, Steven Grand, Wei Gao, W. Scott Baldridge, Steven Semken, Paresh Patel

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A high-resolution, regional passive seismic experiment in the Rio Grande rift region of the southwestern United States has produced new images of upper-mantle velocity structure and crust-mantle topography. Synthesizing these results with geochemical and other geophysical evidence reveals highly symmetric lower-crustal and upper-mantle lithosphere extensional deformation, suggesting a pure-shear rifting mechanism for the Rio Grande rift. Extension in the lower crust is distributed over a region four times the width of the rift's surface expression. Here we propose that the laterally distributed, pure shear extension is a combined effect of low strain rate and a regionally elevated geotherm, possibly abetted by pre-existing lithospheric structures, at the time of rift initiation. Distributed extension in the lower crust and mantle has induced less concentrated vertical mantle upwelling and less vigorous small-scale convection than would have arisen from more localized deformation. This lack of highly focused mantle upwelling may explain a deficit of rift-related volcanics in the Rio Grande rift compared to other major rift systems such as the Kenya rift.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)851-855
Number of pages5
Issue number7028
StatePublished - Feb 24 2005

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    Wilson, D., Aster, R., West, M., Ili, J., Grand, S., Gao, W., Baldridge, W. S., Semken, S., & Patel, P. (2005). Lithospheric structure of the Rio Grande rift. Nature, 433(7028), 851-855.