Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, vol.128, no.4, 2023 (SCI-Expanded)
Global geophysical observations show the presence of the enigmatic mid-lithospheric discontinuity (MLD) at depths of ca. 80–150 km which may question the stability and internal structure of the continental lithosphere. While various mechanisms may explain the MLD, the dynamic processes leading to the seismic observations are unclear. Here we present a physical mechanism for the origin of MLD by channel flow in the cratonic mantle lithosphere, triggered by convective instabilities at cratonic margins in the Archean when the mantle was hot. Our numerical modeling shows that the top of the frozen-in channel flow creates a shear zone at a depth comparable to the globally observed seismic MLD. Grain size reduction in the shear zone and accumulation of percolated melts or fluids along the channel top may reduce seismic wave speeds as observed below the MLD, while the channel flow itself may explain radial anisotropy of seismic wave speeds and change in direction of the seismic anisotropic fast axis. The proposed mechanism is valid for a broad range of physically realistic parameters and that MLD may have been preserved since its formation in the Archean. The intensity of the channel flow ceased with time due to secular cooling of the Earth's interior. The new mechanism may reshape our understanding of the evolution and stability of cratonic lithosphere.