Southeast Papuan crustal tectonics: Imaging extension and buoyancy of an active rift

G. A. Abers, Z. Eilon, J. B. Gaherty, G. Jin, Yh Kim, M. Obrebski, C. Dieck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Southeast Papua hosts the world's youngest ultra-high-pressure (UHP) metamorphic rocks. These rocks are found in an extensional setting in metamorphic core complexes. Competing theories of extensional shear zones or diapiric upwelling have been suggested as driving their exhumation. To test these theories, we analyze the CDPAPUA temporary array of 31 land and 8 seafloor broadband seismographs. Seismicity shows that deformation is being actively accommodated on the core complex bounding faults, offset by transfer structures in a manner consistent with overall north-south extension rather than radial deformation. Rayleigh wave dispersion curves are jointly inverted with receiver functions for crustal velocity structure. They show crustal thinning beneath the core complexes of 30-50% and very low shear velocities at all depths beneath the core complexes. On the rift flanks velocities resemble those of normal continents and increase steadily with depth. There is no evidence for velocity inversions that would indicate that a major density inversion exists to drive crustal diapirs. Also, low-density melt seems minor within the crust. Together with the extension patterns apparent in seismicity, these data favor an extensional origin for the core complexes and limit the role of diapirism as a secondary exhumation mechanism, although deeper mantle diapirs may be undetected. A small number of intermediate-depth earthquakes, up to 120 km deep, are identified for the first time just northeast of the D'Entrecasteaux Islands. They occur at depths similar to those recorded by UHP rocks and similar temperatures, indicating that the modern seismicity occurs at the setting that generates UHP metamorphism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)951-971
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Papua New Guinea
  • Woodlark-D'Entrecasteaux
  • metamorphic core complexes
  • receiver functions
  • rifts
  • seismicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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