Estimation of the effective elastic thickness of the lithosphere using inverse spectral methods: the state of the art
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The effective elastic thickness (Te) is a geometric measure of the flexural rigidity of the lithosphere, which describes the resistance to bending under the application of applied, vertical loads. As such, it is likely that its magnitude has a major role in governing the tectonic evolution of both continental and oceanic plates. Of the several ways to estimate Te, one has gained popularity in the 40 years since its development because it only requires gravity and topography data, both of which are now readily available and provide excellent coverage over the Earth and even the rocky planets and moons of the solar system. This method, the ‘inverse spectral method’, develops measures of the relationship between observed gravity and topography data in the spatial frequency (wavenumber) domain, namely the admittance and coherence. The observed measures are subsequently inverted against the predictions of thin, elastic plate models, giving estimates of Te and other lithospheric parameters. This article provides a review of inverse spectral methodology and the studies that have used it. It is not, however, concerned with the geological or geodynamic significance or interpretation of Te, nor does it discuss and compare Te results from different methods in different provinces. Since the three main aspects of the subject are thin elastic plate flexure, spectral analysis, and inversion methods, the article broadly follows developments in these. The review also covers synthetic plate modelling, and concludes with a summary of the controversy currently surrounding inverse spectral methods, whether or not the large Te values returned in cratonic regions are artefacts of the method, or genuine observations.
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