Ridge segmentation, tectonic evolution and rheology of slow-spreading oceanic crust
Escartin Guiral, Javier E.
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Central Atlantic Ocean Basin
Northern Atlantic Ocean Basin
KeywordSea-floor spreading; Plate tectonics; Structural geology; Mid-ocean ridges; Plumes; Submarine geology
Two-thirds of the Earth's surface is oceanic crust formed by magmatic and tectonic processes along mid-ocean ridges. Slow-spreading ridges, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, are discontinuous and composed of ridge segments. Segments are thus fundamental units of magmatic accretion and tectonic deformation that control the evolution of the crust. The objective of this Thesis is to constrain the tectonic processes that occur at the scale of slowspreading segments, to identify the factors controlling segment propagation, and to provide constraints on lithospheric strength with laboratory deformation experiments. In chapter 2, bathymetry and gravity from various areas along the global mid-ocean ridge system are analyzed to quantify systematic variations at the scale of individual segments. There is a marked asymmetry in bathymetry and gravity in the vicinity of segment offsets. We develop a model of faulting to explain these observations. Low-angle faults appear to accommodate tectonic extension at the inside corners of ridge-offset intersections, and result in substantially uplifted terrain with thin crust with respect to that at the outside corners or centers of segments. Results from Chapter 3 indicate that the crust magmatically emplaced on axis is not maintained off-axis. This transition is revealed by both statistical and spectral analyses of bathymetry and gravity. Tectonic extension varies along the length of a segment, resulting in thinning and uplift of the crust at ridge-offset inside corners, and a decorrelation between bathymetry and gravity patterns. Tectonic deformation substantially reshapes the oceanic crust that is magmatically emplaced on-axis, and strongly controls the crustal structure and seafloor morphology off-axis. Satellite gravity data over the Atlantic shown in Chapter 4 reveal a complex history of ridge segmentation, and provides constraints on the processes driving the propagation of segments. The pattern of segmentation is controlled mainly by the geometry of the ridge axis, and secondarily by hot spots. Segments migrate primarily down regional gradients associated with hot spot swells. However, the lack of correlation between gradients and propagation rate, and the propagation up gradient of some offsets, suggest that additional factors control propagation (e.g., variations in lithospheric strength). Most non-transform offsets are short-lived and migrating, while transform offsets are long-lived and stable. Both the propagation of segments (Chapter 4) tectonism along a segment (Chapters 2 and 3) are controlled by the lithospheric rheology. In Chapter 5 I present results from laboratory deformation experiments on serpentinite. These experiments demonstrate that serpentinites are considerably weaker than peridotites or gabbros, display a non-dilatant style of brittle deformation, and strain is accommodated by shear cracking. Serpentinites may weaken the lithosphere, enhance strain localization along faults, and control the style of faulting.
Submitted in the partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution August, 1996
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