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Structure of the European upper mantle revealed by adjoint tomography


Images of the European crust and upper mantle, created using seismic tomography, identify the Cenozoic Rift System and related volcanism in central and western Europe. They also reveal subduction and slab roll back in the Mediterranean–Carpathian region1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12. However, existing tomographic models are either high in resolution, but cover only a limited area13,14, or low in resolution, and thus miss the finer-scale details of mantle structure5,12. Here we simultaneously fit frequency-dependent phase anomalies of body and surface waveforms in complete three-component seismograms with an iterative inversion strategy involving adjoint methods, to create a tomographic model of the European upper mantle. We find that many of the smaller-scale structures such as slabs, upwellings and delaminations that emerge naturally in our model are consistent with existing images. However, we also derive some hitherto unidentified structures. Specifically, we interpret fast seismic-wave speeds beneath the Dinarides Mountains, southern Europe, as a signature of northeastward subduction of the Adria plate; slow seismic-wave speeds beneath the northern part of the Rhine Graben as a reservoir connected to the Eifel hotspot; and fast wave-speed anomalies beneath Scandinavia as a lithospheric drip, where the lithosphere is delaminating and breaking away. Our model sheds new light on the enigmatic palaeotectonic history of Europe.

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Figure 1: Behaviour of the misfit function and the number of measurement windows as a function of iteration.
Figure 2: Horizontal cross-sections of relative perturbations in βv, δlnβv, for model EU30.
Figure 3: Vertical cross-sections of δlnβv for model EU30.
Figure 4: 3D view of the interaction between the Adria–Dinarides, Vrancea and Hellenic slabs.


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We thank G. Houseman for comments on the structural interpretation and general suggestions that improved the manuscript. We thank J. Trampert and A. Fichtner for discussions regarding resolution analysis in full-waveform inversion and R. Wortel and W. Spakman for sharing their insights into Mediterranean tectonics. We acknowledge the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS;, Observatories and Research Facilities for European Seismology ( and the Kandilli Observatory ( for providing the data used in this study. Numerical simulations were carried out on a Dell cluster built and maintained by the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering. Data and synthetic processing was accomplished based on the Seismic Analysis Code (Goldstein, 2003). All maps and cross-sections were made with the Generic Mapping Tool (Wessel, 1991). The open-source spectral element software package SPECFEM3D_GLOBE and the seismic-measurement software package FLEXWIN used for this article are freely available for download through the Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics ( This research was supported by the US National Science Foundation under grant EAR-0711177.

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Authors and Affiliations



H.J.Z. collected and analysed seismic data, carried out the inversion, interpreted the model and co-wrote the manuscript. E.B. collected seismic data from Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL) and the Kandilli Observatory and interpreted the model. D.P. developed the calculation of transversely isotropic kernels and improved and optimized the spectral element and imaging software. J.T. planned the project, developed theory, interpreted the model, co-wrote the manuscript and provided overall guidance.

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Correspondence to Hejun Zhu.

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Zhu, H., Bozdağ, E., Peter, D. et al. Structure of the European upper mantle revealed by adjoint tomography. Nature Geosci 5, 493–498 (2012).

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