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Modification of the Western Gondwana craton by plume–lithosphere interaction

Nature Geosciencevolume 11pages203210 (2018) | Download Citation


The longevity of cratons is generally attributed to persistence of neutrally-to-positively buoyant and mechanically strong lithosphere that shields the cratonic crust from underlying mantle dynamics. Here we show that large portions of the cratonic lithosphere in South America and Africa, however, experienced significant modification during and since the Mesozoic era, as demonstrated by widespread Cretaceous uplift and volcanism, present-day high topography, thin crust, and the presence of seismically fast but neutrally buoyant upper-mantle anomalies. We suggest that these observations reflect a permanent increase in lithospheric buoyancy due to plume-triggered delamination of deep lithospheric roots during the Late Cretaceous and early Cenozoic periods. Lithosphere in these regions has been thermally reestablished since then, as confirmed by its present-day low heat flow, high seismic velocities and realigned seismic anisotropy. We conclude that the original lowermost cratonic lithosphere is compositionally denser than the asthenospheric mantle and can be removed when perturbed by underlying mantle upwelling. Therefore, it is the buoyancy of the upper lithosphere that perpetuates stabilization of cratons.

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  • 05 June 2018

    In the version of this Article originally published, a thick, white line indicating the mid-lithosphere discontinuity was missing from Fig. 5a. Additionally, in Fig. 5c, where two foundered lithosphere piles are depicted, the colours of the pile on the right were inverted. These errors have now been corrected in all online versions of the Article.


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We thank T. Jordan, W. Mooney, S. Gao and L. Chen for helpful comments on the manuscript. L.L. acknowledges NSF grants EAR-1345135, 1554554, 1565640 and supercomputing allocation on Blue Waters through ACI-1516586. M.F. acknowledges the grant Progetto di Ateneo FACCPTRAT12 from Università di Padova.

Author information


  1. Department of Geology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL, USA

    • Jiashun Hu
    • , Lijun Liu
    • , Quan Zhou
    • , Stephen Marshak
    •  & Craig Lundstrom
  2. Department of Geoscience, University of Padova, Padova, Italy

    • Manuele Faccenda
  3. Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

    • Karen M. Fischer


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J.H. and L.L. conceived the project and performed the analysis. M.F. contributed to anisotropy and mineral physics. Q.Z., K.F., S.M. and C.L. contributed to gravity, seismology, geology and petrology, respectively. All authors participated in manuscript preparation.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Lijun Liu.

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