Folding of Oceanic Lithosphere

McAdoo, DC, Sandwell DT.  1985.  Folding of Oceanic Lithosphere. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth and Planets. 90:8563-8569.


Folding of the lithosphere just south of the Bay of Bengal appears as (1) undulations in acoustic basement topography and (2) as linear geoid undulations in the Seasat altimeter data. From the Seasat data we find that the east-west trending folds have wavelengths ranging from 130 to 250 km and clustering about 190 km. The horizontal gravity disturbances due to the folds range in amplitude from 15 to 50 mGal. Elastic models of oceanic lithosphere have, in the past, been used to demonstrate the implausibility of lithosphere buckling, or folding, in response to compression. These elastic models typically predict that compressive stresses of about 5 GPa are required to buckle oceanic lithosphere with an age comparable to that of the northeastern Indian Ocean (40–70 Ma). These stresses exceed the strength of lithospheric rock. We use an elastic-plastic model to show that oceanic lithosphere of this age should have a net compressive strength equal to about 12% of the elastic buckling stress. We further demonstrate that loads approaching the net compressive strength cause the lithosphere to fold with a wavelength about 200 km, i.e., the wavelength observed from Seasat. Our results reinforce earlier speculation that this folding may be related to the Himalayan orogeny.