Modeling the Tonga slab: Can travel time data resolve a metastable olivine wedge?

Koper, KD, Wiens DA, Dorman LM, Hildebrand JA, Webb SC.  1998.  Modeling the Tonga slab: Can travel time data resolve a metastable olivine wedge? Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth. 103:30079-30100.

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bonin subduction zone, crystal elastic properties, deep-focus, descending lithosphere, double seismic zone, downgoing, earthquakes, lithosphere, phase-transformations, transition, upper-mantle discontinuities, velocity anomalies, zone


We present the results of detailed modeling of the Tonga slab with the goals of determining whether high-resolution travel time data(1) can be fit by simple thermal and petrological slab models and (2) can resolve a metastable olivine wedge at depths greater than the equilibrium olivine-spinel phase boundary. We model arrival times recorded by a 1000 km line of 23 ocean bottom seismometers (OBS) and island broadband seismic stations extending from the Lau backarc basin, across the Tonga trench and onto the Pacific plate. The data consist of 388 local, P wave travel times from 17 deep and 3 intermediate earthquakes recorded during the 3-month OBS deployment in late 1994. We locate the events using both local and teleseismic arrival times, and apply a relocation operator to the theoretical travel times to simulate the biases introduced in the data by locating the events with a reference Earth model. The modeling consists of grid searches using a three-dimensional finite difference algorithm to compute local, first arriving travel times for equilibrium and metastable P wave velocity models constructed from thermal, mineralogical, and morphological constraints. The travel time anomalies are well fit by standard slab thermal models and P velocity temperature derivatives of -0.4 to -0.3 ms(-1)degrees C-1. Forward calculations indicate that the presence of a metastable olivine wedge has a subtle effect on the travel times due to the tendency of first arriving waves to avoid the low-velocity region. Wedge velocity models provide a slightly better fit to the data than equilibrium models, but F tests indicate the improvement is not significant at the 95% level. Our results suggest that providing direct seismological evidence of a wedge of metastable olivine in subduction zones will require either waveform modeling or the observation of later arriving phases created by the depressed phase boundary.