Lithosphere - mantle interaction in a convergent zone: Understanding the evolution of the South Carpathian - Pannonian system

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Earth and Environment


The formation of mountain belts by continental collision is a necessary consequence of plate tectonics. The collision produced by the northward motion of Africa has dominated the recent geological evolution of the southern part of the European continent; the Adria block (present-day Italy) pushing northwards into the southern part of Europe has produced the Alpine mountain range. Extending east of the Alps, the Carpathian Mountain chain surrounds a subsiding region - the Pannonian basin (much of the region drained by the Danube River). The South Carpathian Mountain chain to the south of the Pannonian basin is an enigmatic structure along which both shear deformation and mountain building have occurred, while the Pannonian Basin was extending. We propose to undertake linked seismological and geodynamical (computer) modeling investigations of the Pannonian Basin and the South Carpathians . We will use an array of about 60 broad-band seismographs to record the signals from distant earthquakes in order to determine the variation of seismic velocity in the lithosphere and upper mantle beneath the SW Carpathians, where the mountain chain bends from a north-south to an east-west alignment (termed an orocline). These data will be used to discriminate between contrasting geodynamical models that have been advanced to explain the history of extension and convergence in the Pannonian Basin, the development of the oroclinal bend of the SW Carpathians, and the related question of where and how mantle downwelling occurs in the upper mantle beneath the South Carpathians. Understanding these processes is important for assessing seismic hazard in this part of Europe (the eastern end of the South Carpathians in Romania represents one of the most seismically hazardous regions in continental Europe) and is also important in developing an understanding of how the European continent has evolved through geological time. As well as having significance in our understanding of continent-scale deformation processes, our study will provide a background framework that is necessary for seismic hazard assessment and for the exploration of hydrocarbon and geothermal energy resources.


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Garthwaite M (2011) Validity of the thin viscous sheet approximation in models of continental collision in Journal of Geophysical Research

Description Large destructive earthquakes in Romania are the result of a gravitational instability of the mantle lithosphere that has developed in the past 5 m.y. or so. The instability has resulted in a large mass of relatively cold and dense sinking mantle which has descended to about 300 km depth. The stresses needed to support this mass from above cause frequent destructive earthquakes in the upper 300 km of the Earth. We also produced a new map of crustal seismic velocity structure across central and eastern Europe that makes a significant advance on previous knowledge.
Exploitation Route Further understanding of the state of stress in the mantle at the site of these large earthquakes may be useful in predicting the specific consequences of future earthquakes, how the energy propagates and where it is focussed.
Sectors Environment

Description Our project contributed to the training of a group of young professional seismologists employed by the National Institute of Earth Physics in Romania and Timisoara, the organisation charged with monitoring seismic risk in Romania
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Title Crustal velocity model for south eastern Europe 
Description The SCP and CBP datasets were analysed to produce a new crustal velocity model for SE Europe 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The new model provided a more comprehensive and synthesised picture of the velocity variation in the SE European crust, which previously was based on point to point measurements with very patchy coverage. 
Title SCP seismic dataset 
Description Seismic data collected during deployment of temporary array in Romania, Hungary and Serbia during the period 2009-2011. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2009 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact new models for the seismic structure of the crust and the upper mantle of central and Eastern Europe in the region of the Pannonian Bas in and Carpathian Mountains 
Description Eotvos Lorand Geophysical Institute, Budapest 
Organisation Eotvos Lorand University
Country Hungary 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We jointly deployed broadband seismographs at locations across Hungary during the Carpathian Basins Project (2005-2007) and the South Carpathian Project (2009-2011)
Collaborator Contribution The partners contributed personnel and vehicles to enable installation and maintenance of the seismic arrays
Impact A number of papers about the seismic and tectonic structure of Central European region have been published in major scientific journals
Description National Institute of Earth Physics, Bucharest 
Organisation National Institute of Earth Physics, Bucharest
Country Romania 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We cooperated with the project partners to install broadband seismic stations across the western part of Romania during the South Carpathaian project (2009-2011).
Collaborator Contribution The partners provided personnel and vehicles to assist with all aspects of the station deployment and maintenance
Impact We have published a number of scientific journal articles on the subject of the seismic structure of central and eastern Europe, based on the data collected during this collaboration.
Start Year 2009
Description Seismological Survey of Serbia 
Organisation Seismological Survey of Serbia
Country Serbia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We collaborated with the Partner Organisation to deploy 10 broadband seismic stations during the course of the Carpathian Basins Project (2005-2007) and the South Carpathian Project (2009-2011)
Collaborator Contribution The partners provided personnel and vehicles for the purpose of deploying and maintaining the seismic array stations installed in Serbia.
Impact We have published several papers in the scientific literature describing the seismic and tectonic structure of the Pannonian- Carpathian regions.
Start Year 2006
Description University of Colorado 
Organisation University of Colorado Boulder
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As part of a long-running collaboration with Prof Peter Molnar and his research group, we have undertaken a series of theoretical and numerical studies of a range of problems relating to gravitational instability of the continental mantle lithosphere and large-scale deformation caused by continental collision. Publications include: Molnar et al., Nature, 2006; Harig et al., Tectonics, 2008; Dayem et al., Tectonics, 2009a and b; Harig et al., J. Geophys. Res, 2010; Molnar and Houseman, J, Geophys. Res., 2010.
Collaborator Contribution The contributions on both sides have been mainly in terms of researcher time. The partners have also provided some airfares to facilitate meetings.
Impact Publications include: Molnar et al., Nature, 2006; Harig et al., Tectonics, 2008; Dayem et al., Tectonics, 2009a and b; Harig et al., J. Geophys. Res, 2010; Molnar and Houseman, J, Geophys. Res., 2010.
Description Victoria University Wellington 
Organisation University of Victoria
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I collaborated with Prof Tim Stern on a theoretical / numerical study of gravitational instability of the upper mantle of North Island New Zealand. Prof Stern's visit to Leeds was enabled by a fellowship from the Leverhulme Foundation.
Collaborator Contribution We each contributed time and effort to the development of a numerical model which can explain the recent geological history of the North Island New Zealand.
Impact Publication in Geology: Stern et al., 2013.
Start Year 2010
Title oregano 
Description 3D viscous flow code used for computing models of geological deformation 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2009 
Impact improved understanding of the structure of the upper mantle beneath the SE Carpathians