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The lithospheric structure of Pangea

Dan McKenzie1, Michael C. Daly2, and Keith Priestley1

Department of Earth Sciences, Bullard Labs, University of Cambridge, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0EZ, UK

Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3AN, UK

ABSTRACT distribution of thick lithosphere before Pangea

Lithospheric thickness of continents, obtained from Rayleigh wave tomography, is used was fragmented. Figure 1 shows the continen-
to make maps of the lithospheric thickness of Pangea by reconstructing the continental ar- tal reassembly, carried out using the rotation
rangement in the Permian. This approach assumes that lithosphere moves with the overlying poles in Table DR1 in the GSA Data Reposi-
continents, and therefore that the arrangement of both can be obtained using the poles of tory1. The maps were produced by rotating the
rotation obtained from magnetic anomalies and fracture zones. The resulting reconstruction values of lithospheric thickness from model
shows that a contiguous arc of thick lithosphere underlay most of eastern Pangea. Beneath the PM_v2_2012 (Priestley and McKenzie, 2013)
western convex side of this arc, there is a wide belt of thinner lithosphere underlying what is then contouring the resulting values. Thick
believed to have been the active margin of Pangea, here named the Pangeides. On the inner lithosphere associated with present active con-
side of this arc is another large area of thin lithosphere beneath the Pan-African belts of North tinental shortening was removed, as were the
Africa and Arabia. The arc of thick lithosphere is crossed by bands of slightly thinner litho- large values along the Pacific margin of South
sphere that lie beneath the Pan-African and Brasiliano mobile belts of South America, Africa, America that result from the high VSV velocity
India, Madagascar, and Antarctica. This geometry suggests that lithospheric thickness has an in the subducting slab and not from thick litho-
important influence on continental deformation and accretion. sphere. Several features of Figure 1 are striking
and show a correlation with surface features
INTRODUCTION and only weakly by composition (Priestley and that have been interpreted through many years
Writing more than 100 years ago, Dana McKenzie, 2006). Rayleigh wave tomography of regional geological mapping. In particular,
(1875) recognized that many continents con- can therefore be used to determine the tem- Pangea consists of three large regions, shown
sisted of an interior shield that had resisted perature as a function of depth, and hence the with different colors in Figure 1: an outer arc of
deformation, surrounded by mobile belts. Com- lithospheric thickness, by fitting a geotherm thinner lithosphere, which we call the Pangeides
monly the belts become successively younger to temperature estimates greater than 1173 K active margin; a central arc of thick lithosphere;
toward the continental margins. Because old at depths >100 km (Priestley and McKenzie, and an area of thinner lithosphere that underlies
continental regions are often underlain by thick 2013). At present, the various approximations what is now North Africa, Arabia, and western
lithosphere, it is likely that continental growth required limit the analysis to waves with periods Europe. These and other features discussed be-
is associated with accretion around regions of greater than ~50 s, and therefore to lithospheric low offer insights into the formation and defor-
thick lithosphere. A variety of different defini- thicknesses greater than ~110 km. There is now mation of continental lithosphere.
tions of lithospheric thickness have been used good agreement between the maps of VSV from
by different authors (see Priestley and McKen- different authors who used a variety of different A Pangean Arc of Thickened Lithosphere
zie, 2013). That used here depends on a thermal methods to analyze the data and to carry out the The most striking feature of Figure 1 is the
model of the crust and upper mantle, consisting inversions (see Priestley and McKenzie, 2013). contiguity of the regions of thick lithosphere
of a crust, underlain by a mechanical bound- The maps show that the regions of litho- throughout Pangea. Because thick lithosphere is
ary layer (MBL) in which heat is transported sphere thicker than ~150 km are considerably considerably more extensive than is the surface
by conduction alone, underlain by a thermal more extensive than the surface outcrops of outcrop of Archaean cratons, this feature of the
boundary layer (TBL) and a mantle with con- Archaean and Proterozoic rocks that form the reconstructions is less obvious from the surface
stant potential temperature. The temperature shields. They also show that continental regions geology. The contiguity of the thick lithosphere
and temperature gradient are required to be con- of Asia that are now undergoing active shorten- in Figure 1 also suggests that the lithospheric
tinuous everywhere, and the TBL is part of the ing are underlain by lithosphere with a thickness thicknesses determined from Rayleigh wave
convecting upper mantle. The model is param- >200 km. Because the structures involved are tomography are reasonably accurate, because
eterized using the thickness of the MBL, deter- now producing thick lithosphere, Priestley and there is otherwise no reason why a continuous
mined by fitting the estimates of temperature at McKenzie (2006) suggested that such regions arc should appear in the reconstruction. Many
given depths. The lithospheric thickness is then should be called “cores” rather than “cratons.” present-day continental margins are marked
determined as the depth at which the conductive The method that Priestley and McKenzie used by zones of thinner lithosphere in Figure 1. It
geotherm in the MBL reaches the temperature to estimate lithospheric thicknesses does not is unclear whether this feature is real. Because
of the interior, and falls in the middle of the provide reliable values for continents when the the lithospheric thickness of old oceanic regions
TBL. There is no reason to expect other defi- thickness is <~110 km, because the limited ver- is only ~100 km, the limited spatial resolution
nitions of lithospheric thickness to give similar tical resolution of the surface wave tomography of model PM_v2_2012 of ~250 km smears the
values to those used below. smears the low crustal velocities into the upper-
Until recently the only method of estimating most mantle.
lithospheric thickness of continents depended GSA Data Repository item 2015268, table of

Euler poles used to make the reconstructions, is

on the mineralogy of garnet-bearing nodules, PANGEAN LITHOSPHERE available online at​
which are only found in rare alkaline rocks. An- All of the continents have regions of thick .htm, or on request from or
other method is now available which depends on lithosphere associated with Precambrian cra- Documents Secretary, GSA, P.O. Box 9140, Boul-
Rayleigh wave tomography. The Rayleigh wave tons, which are now distributed around the der, CO 80301, USA. The lithospheric thicknesses
in kilometers as latitude, longitude, and value in the
velocity is primarily controlled by VSV, the ve- globe. However, in the Permian, all of the major reconstructed coordinate frame are available in the
locity of vertically polarized shear waves, which continental regions were joined together as Pan- PANGAEA data repository: http://doi.pangaea​ .de​
is in turn principally controlled by temperature gea, and we were curious to see what was the /10.1594​/PANGAEA​.847325.

GEOLOGY, September 2015; v. 43; no. 9; p. 783–786  |  Data Repository item 2015268  | doi:10.1130/G36819.1 |  Published online 17 July 2015
© |  Volume
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Figure 1. Pangea reconstruction. Thick black and magenta lines show northern boundaries of India and Arabia and southern boundary of
Eurasian craton. Dashed light-green line marks outer margin of Pangeides active margin. Dashed yellow line shows approximate boundary
between active margin and arc of thick lithosphere. Dashed dark-green line outlines area underlain by thinner lithosphere that now under-
lies North Africa, Arabia, and western Europe. Inset shows same reconstruction without any lithospheric thickness contours. NA—North
America;, Eu—Eurasia; SA—South America; Af—Africa; An—Antarctica; Au—Australia. Oblique Mercator projection with axis 30°N, 80°E.

boundary between thin oceanic and thick cra- volved. The resistance to continental shortening tic Basin, which forms the only interruption in
tonic lithosphere. must also depend on lithospheric thickness, be- the entire length of thick lithosphere in Figure
The contiguity of thick lithosphere in Figure cause otherwise shortening would stop before the 1. This misfit may result from relative motion
1 could have resulted only if thick lithosphere thick lithosphere became contiguous. between the regions east and west of the Ural
was produced or deformed (or both) during the Figure 2A shows the details of equatorial Pan- Mountains since the Permian.
assembly of Pangea. Before Pangea was assem- gea (or western Gondwanaland). The Atlantic fits
bled, its separate pieces must in general have had show that the thick lithosphere of North America Thickened Lithosphere and Pan-African
different shapes that would not fit together. At and South America and of Africa formed a con- Orogenesis
present, regions of thick lithosphere are widely tinuous belt before the Atlantic opened, and that Within the arc of contiguous thick litho-
scattered and have irregular boundaries. As the the thin lithosphere beneath northeast Brazil sphere, several belts of thinner lithosphere oc-
fits in Figure 1 show, they can have undergone is part of a more extensive region of thin litho- cur. These are particularly clear in Gondwana-
little deformation during their dispersion after the sphere in East Pangea. Figure 2B shows the ma- land, both along the continental margins and
Permian. If they had undergone deformation dur- jor structural domains on the southern continents within the present-day continents of Africa and
ing the dispersion, they would no longer fit to- using the same scale and projection as in Figure South America. Where these occur along the
gether when Pangea was reconstructed by rigid 2A, and largely agrees with the reconstructions margins, it is difficult to know if these features
rotations. If future motions again result in the for- of Vaughan and Pankhurst (2008) and of Tohver result from later stretching during continental
mation of a new Pangea, they will, in general, not et al. (2006). Their Arabian-Nubian and Nile breakup or are caused by smearing owing to
bring the rifted margins back together in exactly Shields are shown as Pan-African in Figure 2B. the limited spatial resolution of the surface
the same configuration as they had in the Perm- Much of the region shown as Pan-African prob- wave tomography. However, within the conti-
ian. Therefore, regions of thick lithosphere can ably also contains large amounts of reworked nents, they show a strong correlation with the
only form contiguous regions if thick lithosphere older rocks. mapped presence of Pan-African–aged (650–
is formed in the gaps, or if the regions themselves The region of Laurasia in Figure 2C shows 550 Ma) orogenic belts (Kennedy, 1964; Miller
are deformed. Probably both processes are in- that the reconstruction does not close the Arc- et al., 1996; Bizzi et al., 2003; Harley, 2003;

|  Volume 43  |  Number 9  |  GEOLOGY

Figure 2. A: Detail from Figure 1 of West
Gondwanaland; Airy projection with pole
at 0°N, 10°E and b = 30°. B: Reconstruc-
tion of West Gondwanaland showing ma-
jor Pan-African orogenic belts in red, ma-
jor regions that are older than Pan-African
crust in blue, and areas of post–Pan-African
crust in white. Red lines denote boundary
of pervasive Pan-African orogenic defor-
mation, and dashed black lines show major
continental-scale structural lineaments. In
South America: TB—Trans-Brasiliano linea-
ment; AM—Amazonian craton; RP—Rio de
la Plata craton; SL—São Luis craton; SF—
São Francisco craton. In Africa: KF—Kandi
fault; MD—Mwembeshi dislocation; DM—
Damaran Matchless belt; MB—Mozambique
belt; LA—Lufilian arc; ZB—Zambezi belt;
Zim—Zimbabwe craton; Congo—Congo cra-
ton; WA—West African craton. Projection
is same as in A. C: Detail from Figure 1 of
Laurasia; Airy projection with pole at 30°N,
20°E and b = 30°.

Milesi et al., 2010). These linear belts of Pan-

African age between the older shields are weak
zones that controlled the locations of the rifts
formed when Gondwanaland broke up (Daly et
al., 1989) (Fig. 2B).
Figure 2A shows a region of thin lithosphere
to the east of the West African craton and to the
north of the Congo craton and its southerly con-
tinuation into South America along the eastern
margin of the Amazonian craton. This region
underlies the Neoproterozoic Pan-African and
Brasiliano belts (Fig. 2B), a complex orogenic
system that resulted in the formation of the
North African and South American parts of West
Gondwanaland (de Almeida et al., 1981; Caby,
1987; Bizzi et al., 2003; Daly et al., 2014). The
throughgoing crustal-scale fault and shear zones
of western Africa, known as the Kandi fault,
and the corresponding Trans-Brasiliano linea-
ment in Brazil show that these orogenic zones
extended from Africa to South America before C
the South Atlantic rift formed (Fig. 2B).
A band of lithosphere that is slightly thin-
ner than that beneath the Archaean cratons
on either side crosses Africa from Nambia to Lithospheric
thickness, km
Tanzania, separating the Congo craton from
the Zimbabwe craton (Figs. 2A and 2B). This
band underlies the Pan-African orogenic zones 70 N
of Damaran, Lufilian, and Zambezi deforma-
tion resulting from collision of the Congo and 160
Zimbabwe cratons (Kröner, 1977; Coward and
Daly, 1984). Though this band is slightly thinner 210
than the lithosphere on either side, it is consider-
ably thicker than that beneath northeast Africa 260
and the arc further west, and forms the southern
part of the Pangean arc of thickened lithosphere. 50 N
This geometry shows that the Pan-African col-
lisional processes must have resulted in wide-
spread orogenic strain on a lithospheric scale
to create the observed contiguity of thickened
lithosphere in our reconstruction. 20 N 0N

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The Pangeides Active Margin Asia, implies that the forces resisting shorten- shida, M., et al., eds., Proterozoic East Gond-
The reconstruction shows that Pangea con- ing increase strongly when two such regions wana: Supercontinent Assembly and Breakup:
Geological Society of London Special Publica-
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nerozoic mobile belts on its convex side. The wave tomography correlate with variations in Kennedy, W.Q., 1964, The structural differentiation
southern part of this area of mobile belts was the overlying crustal structure, and are therefore of Africa in the Pan-African (500 m.y.) tectonic
named the Samfrau geosyncline by Du Toit not likely to be artifacts of the inversion process. episode, in 8th Annual Report of the Research
Institute of African Geology: Leeds, UK, Leeds
(1937). Our Figure 1 shows a much more ex- University, p. 48–49.
tensive zone of mobile belts, interpreted as an ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Kröner, A., 1977, The Precambrian geotectonic evo-
We thank C. Sengor for his help, and L. Lawver and
active plate margin stretching from northern L. Gahagan for supplying many of the poles used for
lution of Africa: Plate accretion versus plate de-
Australia to northeast Asia and incorporating struction: Precambrian Research, v. 4, p. 163–
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Du Toit’s Samfrau geosyncline A more suitable anonymous reviewers for their comments.
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