Grain-size dynamics beneath mid-ocean ridges : implications for permeability and melt extraction
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Grain size is an important control on mantle viscosity and permeability, but is difficult or impossible to measure in situ. We construct a two-dimensional, single phase model for the steady state mean grain size beneath a mid-ocean ridge. The mantle rheology is modeled as a composite of diffusion creep, dislocation creep, dislocation accommodated grain boundary sliding, and a plastic stress limiter. The mean grain size is calculated by the paleowattmeter relationship of Austin and Evans (2007). We investigate the sensitivity of our model to global variations in grain growth exponent, potential temperature, spreading-rate, and mantle hydration. We interpret the mean grain-size field in terms of its permeability to melt transport. The permeability structure due to mean grain size may be approximated as a high permeability region beneath a low permeability region. The transition between high and low permeability regions occurs across a boundary that is steeply inclined toward the ridge axis. We hypothesize that such a permeability structure generated from the variability of the mean grain size may focus melt toward the ridge axis, analogous to Sparks and Parmentier (1991)-type focusing. This focusing may, in turn, constrain the region where significant melt fractions are observed by seismic or magnetotelluric surveys. This interpretation of melt focusing via the grain-size permeability structure is consistent with MT observation of the asthenosphere beneath the East Pacific Rise.
© The Author(s), 2015. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 16 (2015): 925–946, doi:10.1002/2014GC005692.
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