Plutonic foundation of a slow-spreading ridge segment: Oceanic core complex at Kane Megamullion, 23°30?N, 45°20?W Academic Article uri icon


  • We mapped the Kane megamullion, an oceanic core complex on the west flank of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge exposing the plutonic foundation of a ?50 km long, second-order ridge segment. The complex was exhumed by long-lived slip on a normal-sense detachment fault at the base of the rift valley wall from ?3.3 to 2.1 Ma (Williams, 2007). Mantle peridotites, gabbros, and diabase dikes are exposed in the detachment footwall and in outward facing high-angle normal fault scarps and slide-scar headwalls that cut through the detachment. These rocks directly constrain crustal architecture and the pattern of melt flow from the mantle to and within the lower crust. In addition, the volcanic carapace that originally overlay the complex is preserved intact on the conjugate African plate, so the complete internal and external architecture of the paleoridge segment can be studied. Seafloor spreading during formation of the core complex was highly asymmetric, and crustal accretion occurred largely in the footwall of the detachment fault exposing the core complex. Because additions to the footwall, both magmatic and amagmatic, are nonconservative, oceanic detachment faults are plutonic growth faults. A local volcano and fissure eruptions partially cover the northwestern quarter of the complex. This volcanism is associated with outward facing normal faults and possible, intersecting transform-parallel faults that formed during exhumation of the megamullion, suggesting the volcanics erupted off-axis. We find a zone of late-stage vertical melt transport through the mantle to the crust in the southern part of the segment marked by a ?10 km wide zone of dunites that likely fed a large gabbro and troctolite intrusion intercalated with dikes. This zone correlates with the midpoint of a lineated axial volcanic high of the same age on the conjugate African plate. In the central region of the segment, however, primitive gabbro is rare, massive depleted peridotite tectonites abundant, and dunites nearly absent, which indicate that little melt crossed the crust-mantle boundary there. Greenschist facies diabase and pillow basalt hanging wall debris are scattered over the detachment surface. The diabase indicates lateral melt transport in dikes that fed the volcanic carapace away from the magmatic centers. At the northern edge of the complex (southern wall of the Kane transform) is a second magmatic center marked by olivine gabbro and minor troctolite intruded into mantle peridotite tectonite. This center varied substantially in size with time, consistent with waxing and waning volcanism near the transform as is also inferred from volcanic abyssal-hill relief on the conjugate African plate. Our results indicate that melt flow from the mantle focuses to local magmatic centers and creates plutonic complexes within the ridge segment whose position varies in space and time rather than fixed at a single central point. Distal to and between these complexes there may not be continuous gabbroic crust, but only a thin carapace of pillow lavas overlying dike complexes laterally fed from the magmatic centers. This is consistent with plate-driven flow that engenders local, stochastically distributed transient instabilities at depth in the partially molten mantle that fed the magmatic centers. Fixed boundaries, such as large-offset fracture zones, or relatively short segment lengths, however, may help to focus episodes of repeated melt extraction in the same location. While no previous model for ocean crust is like that inferred here, our observations do not invalidate them but rather extend the known diversity of ridge architecture.

publication date

  • May 2008