Adjoint models of mantle convection with seismic, plate motion, and stratigraphic constraints: North America since the Late Cretaceous

Sonja Spasojevic, Lijun Liu, Michael Gurnis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


[1] We apply adjoint models of mantle convection to North America since the Late Cretaceous. The present-day mantle structure is constrained by seismic tomography and the time-dependent evolution by plate motions and stratigraphic data (paleoshorelines, borehole tectonic subsidence, and sediment isopachs). We infer values of average upper and lower mantle viscosities, provide a synthesis of North American vertical motions (relative sea level) from the Late Cretaceous to the present, and reconstruct the geometry of the Farallon slab back to the Late Cretaceous. In order to fit Late Cretaceous marine inundation and borehole subsidence, the adjoint model requires a viscosity ratio across 660 km discontinuity of 15:1 (reference viscosity of 1021 Pa s), which is consistent with values previously inferred by postglacial rebound studies. The dynamic topography associated with subduction of the Farallon slab is localized in western North America over Late Cretaceous, representing the primary factor controlling the widespread flooding. The east coast of the United States is not stable; rather, it has been experiencing continuous dynamic subsidence over the Cenozoic, coincident with an overall eustatic fall, explaining a discrepancy between sea level derived from the New Jersey coastal plain and global curves. The east coast subsidence further constrains the mantle viscosity structure and requires an uppermost mantle viscosity of 1020 Pa s. Imposed constraints require that the Farallon slab was flat lying during Late Cretaceous, with an extensive zone of shallow dipping Farallon subduction extending beyond the flat-lying slab farther east and north by up to 1000 km than previously suggested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberQ05W02
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Adjoint mantle convection models
  • Continental subsidence
  • Dynamic topography
  • Western interior seaway

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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