Segmentation and morphotectonic variations along a slow-spreading center: The Mid-Atlantic Ridge (2400? N? 3040? N)
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Analysis of Sea Beam bathymetry along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between 24-degrees 00’N and 30-degrees 40’N reveals the nature and scale of the segmentation of this slow-spreading center. Except for the Atlantis Transform, there are no transform offsets along this 800-km-long portion of the plate boundary. Instead, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is offset at intervals of 10-100 km by non-transform discontinuities, usually located at local depth maxima along the rift valley. At these discontinuities, the horizontal shear between offset ridge segments is not accommodated by a narrow, sustained transform-zone. Non-transform discontinuities along the MAR can be classified according to their morphology, which is partly controlled by the distance between the offset neovolcanic zones, and their spatial and temporal stability. Some of the non-transform discontinuities are associated with off-axis basins which integrate spatially to form discordant zones on the flanks of the spreading center. These basins may be the fossil equivalents of the terminal lows which flank the neovolcanic zone at the ends of each segment. The off-axis traces, which do not lie along small circles about the pole of opening of the two plates, reflect the migration of the discontinuities along the spreading center. The spectrum of rift valley morphologies ranges from a narrow, deep, hourglass-shaped valley to a wide valley bounded by low-relief rift mountains. A simple classification of segment morphology involves two types of segments. Long and narrow segments are found preferentially on top of the long-wavelength, along-axis bathymetric high between the Kane and Atlantis Transforms. These segments are associated with circular mantle Bouguer anomalies which are consistent with focused mantle upwelling beneath the segment mid-points. Wide, U-shaped segments in cross-section are preferentially found in the deep part of the long-wavelength, along-axis depth profile. These segments do not appear to be associated with circular mantle Bouguer anomalies, indicating perhaps a more complex pattern of mantle upwelling and/or crustal structure. Thus, the long-recognized bimodal distribution of segment morphology may be associated with different patterns of mantle upwelling and/or crustal structure. We propose that the range of observed, first-order variations in segment morphology reflects differences in the flow pattern, volume and temporal continuity of magmatic upwelling at the segment scale. However, despite large first-order differences, all segments display similar intra-segment, morphotectonic variations. We postulate that the intra-segment variability represents differences in the relative importance of volcanism and tectonism along strike away from a zone of enhanced magma upwelling within each segment. The contribution of volcanism to the morphology will be more important near the shallowest portion of the rift valley within each segment, beneath which we postulate that upwelling of magma is enhanced, than beneath the ends of the segment. Conversely, the contribution of tectonic extension to the morphology will become more important toward the spreading center discontinuities. Variations in magmatic budget along the strike of a segment will result in along-axis variations in crustal structure. Segment mid-points may coincide with regions of highest melt production and thick crust, and non-transform discontinuities with regions of lowest melt production and thin crust. This hypothesis is consistent with available seismic and gravity data. The rift valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is in general an asymmetric feature. Near segment mid-points, the rift valley is usually symmetric but, away from the segment mid-points, one side of the rift valley often consists of a steep, faulted slope while the other side forms a more gradual ramp. These observations suggest that half-grabens, rather than full-grabens, are the fundamental building blocks of the rift valley. They also indicate that the pattern of faulting varies along strike at the segment scale, and may be a consequence of the three-dimensional, thermo-mechanical structure of segments associated with enhanced mantle upwelling beneath their mid-points.