We propose to test if gravimetry can prove useful in discriminating different models of long-term deep crustal processes in the case of the Taiwan mountain belt. We discuss two existing tectonic models that differ in the deep processes proposed to sustain the long-term growth of the orogen. One model assumes underplating of the uppermost Eurasian crust with subduction of the deeper part of the crust into the mantle. The other one suggests the accretion of the whole Eurasian crust above crustal-scale ramps, the lower crust being accreted into the collisional orogen. We compute the temporal gravity changes caused only by long-term rock mass transfers at depth for each of them. We show that the underplating model implies a rate of gravity change of -6 × 10-2 μGal yr-1, a value that increases to 2 × 10-2 μGal yr-1 if crustal subduction is neglected. If the accretion of the whole Eurasian crust occurs, a rate of 7 × 10-2 μGal yr-1 is obtained. The two models tested differ both in signal amplitude and spatial distribution. The yearly gravity changes expected by long-term deep crustal mass processes in Taiwan are two orders of magnitude below the present-day uncertainty of land-based gravity measurements. Assuming that these annually averaged long-term gravity changes will linearly accumulate with ongoing mountain building, multidecadal time-series are needed to identify comparable rates of gravity change. However, as gravity is sensitive to any mass redistribution, effects of short-term processes such as seismicity and surface mass transfers (erosion, sedimentation, ground-water) may prevent from detecting any long-term deep signal. This study indicates that temporal gravity is not appropriate for deciphering the long-term deep crustal processes involved in the Taiwan mountain belt.
- Dynamics: gravity and tectonics
- Numerical approximations and analysis
- Time variable gravity