Abstract

Analysis of the Lithoprobe Deep Probe and Southern Alberta Refraction Experiment data sets, focusing on the region between Deep Probe shots 43 and 55, has resulted in a continental-scale velocity structural model of the lithosphere of platformal western Laurentia reaching depths of ∼150 km. Three major lithospheric blocks were investigated: (i) the Hearne Province, a typical continental Archean cratonic province lying beneath the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin; (ii) the Wyoming Province, an even older block of Phanerozoic-modified Archean crust with an enigmatic lower lithosphere; and (iii) the Yavapai–-Mazatzal Province, Proterozoic terranes underlying the Colorado Plateau and Southern Rocky Mountains. In this study, the northern two of these regions are investigated with a modified ray-theoretical traveltime inversion routine that respects the spherical geometry of the Earth. The resulting crustal velocity structure, combined with supporting geological and geophysical data, reveals that the Medicine Hat block (MHB), lying between the Hearne and Wyoming provinces, is a third independent Archean crustal block. The subcrustal lithosphere along the profile is homogeneous in velocity structure, but two significant northward-dipping reflectors are apparent and interpreted as relic subduction zones associated with sutures between the three Archean blocks. The Hearne crust is typical of an Archean shield or platform both in its thickness of 34–50 km and its seismic velocity structure. The crust of the Archean MHB and Wyoming Province, which ranges in thickness from 49 to 60 km, includes a 10–30 km thick high-velocity layer, interpreted to be Proterozoic in age. Such a feature is unexpected beneath Archean crustal provinces, but if the region is considered to be the remanent marginal portion of a larger Archean continent, then the interpreted Proterozoic underplating and lack of an Archean lithospheric root can be explained. The variable topography along the reflective upper and lower boundaries of this layer, especially within the MHB, suggests considerable variability in its emplacement and subsequent tectonic history.

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