Geoid Height Versus Topography for Oceanic Plateaus and Swells

Sandwell, DT, Mackenzie KR.  1989.  Geoid Height Versus Topography for Oceanic Plateaus and Swells. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth and Planets. 94:7403-7418.

Date Published:



Oceanic plateaus and swells are a major component of the seafloor topography, yet they remain among the most poorly understood features. This is especially true of the oceanic plateaus which show large variations in crustal thickness. To determine the depth and mode of compensation for 53 of the largest plateaus and swells, we analyzed the relationship between geoid height and topography in polygonal areas containing each feature. Both geoid height and topography were first band-pass filtered (400 km < l < 4000 km) to isolate the signal associated with local compensation from flexural and deep mantle signals. The ratio of geoid height to topography was then determined by fitting a straight line to the data. Except for nine of the smaller features there is a high correlation between geoid height and topography that is positive in accordance with Airy and thermal compensation models. Eighteen features have high geoid/topography ratios that cannot be explained by the Airy compensation model of crustal thickening. These features (thermal swells) are partially supported by thermal buoyancy forces in the lower half of the lithosphere. The ratios are highest for active hot spot swells and decay, with the thermal age of the swell, to values consistent with Airy compensation of the enduring volcanic edifice. The remaining features (plateaus) have lower geoid/topography ratios in agreement with the Airy compensation model. Those plateaus with average height greater than 4 km are thought to be continental fragments; the shorter plateaus tend to be volcanic features. Modified continental plateaus, presumably small fragments of extended and intruded continental margin crust, cluster around heights of ∼3 km, overlapping the range associated with oceanic plateaus. Since the origin of many plateaus is poorly understood, this global geoid/topography analysis provides a new technique for comparing the deep structure of oceanic plateaus and swells.