High Bulk and Shear Attenuation Due to Partial Melt in the Tonga-Lau Back-arc Mantle

TitleHigh Bulk and Shear Attenuation Due to Partial Melt in the Tonga-Lau Back-arc Mantle
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsS. Wei, S, Wiens, DA
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Keywordsbulk attenuation, Lau back-arc basin, mantle partial melting, QP/QS ratio, Tonga subduction zone

Seismic attenuation measures energy loss during seismic wave propagation and quantifies the relaxation of rocks' elastic moduli. Abundant seismic studies have observed shear attenuation, but few have quantified bulk attenuation (bulk modulus relaxation), and these studies controversially locate finite bulk attenuation in different parts of the Earth, from the asthenosphere to the inner core. Here we present conclusive evidence localizing bulk attenuation to a specific region of the uppermost mantle. By analyzing amplitude spectral decay of P and S waves from Tonga earthquakes recorded at local seismic stations, we observe unusually low QP/QS ratios (<1.5) in the Tonga-Lau mantle wedge. All seismic raypaths with significant path-average bulk attenuation (Qκ−1 > 0.01 or Qκ < 100) are confined to the region immediately beneath the Lau back-arc spreading centers west of the Tonga Arc. Tomography results show that the highest bulk attenuation (Qκ−1 = 0.037 ± 0.008 or Qκ = 27.0 ± 0.2) is about 75% of the in situ shear attenuation. The observed high bulk attenuation anomalies coincide with an inferred zone of partial melting, suggesting that the causative mechanism involves either infinitesimal movement of melt through pores or changes in melt fraction in response to seismic waves.


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