Central role of detachment faults in accretion of slow-spreading oceanic lithosphere
Escartin, Javier E.
Smith, Deborah K.
Cann, Johnson R.
Schouten, Hans A.
Langmuir, Charles H.
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The formation of oceanic detachment faults is well established from inactive, corrugated fault planes exposed on seafloor formed along ridges spreading at less than 80 km/My1-4. These faults can accommodate extension for up to 1-3 Myrs5, and are associated with one of two contrasting modes of accretion operating along the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR). The first is symmetrical accretion, dominated by magmatic processes with subsidiary high-angle faulting and formation of abyssal hills on both flanks. The second is asymmetrical accretion involving an active detachment fault6 along one ridge flank. An examination of ~2500 km of the MAR between 12.5 and 35°N reveals asymmetrical accretion along almost half of the ridge. Hydrothermal activity identified to date in the study region is closely associated with asymmetrical accretion, which also exhibits high-levels of near continuous hydroacoustically and teleseismically recorded seismicity. Enhanced seismicity is probably generated along detachment faults accommodating a sizeable proportion of the total plate separation. In contrast, symmetrical segments have lower levels of seismicity, which concentrates primarily at their ends. Basalts erupted along asymmetrical segments have compositions that are consistent with crystallization at higher pressures than basalts from symmetrical segments, and with lower extents of partial melting of the mantle. Both seismic and geochemical evidence indicate that the axial lithosphere is thicker and colder at asymmetrical sections of the ridge, either because associated hydrothermal circulation efficiently penetrates to greater depths, or because the rising mantle is cooler. We suggest that much of the variability in seafloor morphology, seismicity and basalt chemistry found along slow-spreading ridges can be thus attributed to the frequent involvement of detachments in oceanic lithospheric accretion.
Author Posting. © Macmillan Publishers, 2008. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Macmillan Publishers for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Nature 455 (2008): 790-794, doi:10.1038/nature07333.