Gradient based first- and second-order filters for the demarcation of continental–oceanic boundaries using satellite gravity data

(2020) Ved P. Maurya, Sergio L. Fontes, Vanderlei C. Oliveira Jr., Emanuele F. La Terra


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Maurya, V. P., Fontes, S. L., Oliveira Jr, V. C., and La Terra, E. F. (2020). Gradient based first- and second-order filters for the demarcation of continental-oceanic boundaries using satellite gravity data. Geophysical Journal International, 221(3), 1499-1514. doi: 10.1093/gji/ggaa084.


Demarcating the continental–oceanic boundary (COB) is extremely important as it contributes to an understanding of the tectonic environments of marginal basins through plate reconstructions. In general, the COB is estimated by jointly interpreting the features of the basement geomorphology, bathymetry and geophysical datasets, including gravity, magnetic, seismic and geochemical data. We propose a novel methodology named the tilt-theta angles correlation (TTAC), a second-order filtering approach to estimate the COB using high-resolution satellite gravity data. This method computes the angular difference or correlation angle between the vectors computed from the gradients of the tilt and theta derivative-based first-order filters. Oceanic regions generally exhibit small correlation angles (∼0°), thereby indicating a direct correlation; in contrast, continental regions depict large correlation angles (∼180°) and thus display an inverse correlation. The TTAC method marks the COB at the spatial position where the correlation angles abruptly shift from inverse to direct. Tests using synthetic data and the larger spectral energy content of TTAC for long wavelengths over tilt, theta and minus of the sign of vertical derivative (-SiVD) filters attest the effectiveness of the new methodology over first-order derivative based filters. Additionally, tests utilizing real data over both the West African Transform Margin (WATM) and across the South Atlantic Conjugate Margin (SACM) provide favourable results compared with the previous methodologies used to demarcate the COB. The COB estimates derived using the new methodology are consistent with the COB estimates obtained during recent plate-reconstruction studies. We also compare our results with an earlier interpretation along a conjugate margin encompassing magma-poor and magma-rich regions. In the complex rifted environments of the SACM, in which volcanic rocks are dominant, the TTAC methodology substantially improves the previous COB estimates, thereby establishing it as an efficient edge marker by simultaneously reducing small-scale geological noise and enhancing regional-scale geological contributions.