Isostatic response of the Australian lithosphere: Estimation of effective elastic thickness and anisotropy using multitaper spectral analysis

Frederik J. Simons, Maria T. Zuber, Jun Korenaga

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152 Scopus citations


Gravity and topography provide important insights regarding the degree and mechanisms of isostatic compensation. The azimuthally isotropic coherence function between the Bouguer gravity anomaly and topography evolves from high to low for increasing wavenumber, a diagnostic that can be predicted for a variety of lithospheric loading models and used in inversions for flexural rigidity thereof. In this study we investigate the isostatic response of continental Australia. We consider the effects of directionally anisotropic plate strength on the coherence. The anisotropic coherence function is calculated for regions of Australia that have distinctive geological and geophysical properties. The coherence estimation is performed by the Thomson multiple-Slepian-taper spectral analysis method extended to two-dimensional fields. Our analysis reveals the existence of flexural anisotropy in central Australia, indicative of a weaker N-S direction of lower Te. This observation is consistent with the suggestion that the parallel faults in that area act to make the lithosphere weaker in the direction perpendicular to them. It can also be related to the N-S direction of maximum stress and possibly the presence of E-W running zones weakened due to differential sediment burial rates. We also demonstrate that the multitaper method has distinct advantages for computing the isotropic coherence function. The ability to make many independent estimates of the isostatic response that are minimally affected by spectral leakage results in a coherence that is more robust than with modified periodogram methods, particularly at low wavenumbers. Our analysis elucidates the reasons for discrepancies in previous estimates of effective elastic thickness Te of the Australian lithosphere. In isotropic inversions for Te, we obtain values that are as much as a factor of 2 less than those obtained in standard inversions of the periodogram coherence using Bouguer gravity and topography but greater than those obtained by inversions that utilize free-air rather than Bouguer gravity and ignore the presence of subsurface loads. However, owing to the low spectral power of the Australian topography, the uncertainty on any estimate of Te is substantial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2000JB900157
Pages (from-to)19163-19184
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue numberB8
StatePublished - Aug 10 2000
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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