Segmentation and crustal structure of the western Mid-Atlantic Ridge flank, 25°25?-27°10?N and 0-29 m.y. Academic Article uri icon


  • We conducted a detailed geological-geophysical survey of the west flank of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between 25°25?N and 27°10?N and from the ridge axis out to 29 Ma crust, acquiring Hydrosweep multibeam bathymetry, HAWAII MR1 sidescan-sonar imagery, gravity, magnetics, and single-channel seismic reflection profiles. The survey covered all or part of nine spreading segments bounded by mostly nontransform, right-stepping discontinuities which are subparallel to flow lines but which migrated independently of one another. Some discontinuities alternated between small right- and left-stepping offsets or exhibited zero offset for up to 3–4 m.y. Despite these changes, the spreading segments have been long-lived and extend 20 m.y. or more across isochrons. A large shift (?9°) in relative plate motion about 24–22 Ma caused significant changes in segmentation pattern. The nature of this plate-boundary response, together with the persistence of segments through periods of zero offset at their bounding discontinuities, suggest that the position and longevity of segments are controlled primarily by the subaxial position of buoyant mantle diapirs or focused zones of rising melt. Within segments, there are distinct differences in seafloor depth, morphology, residual mantle Bouguer gravity anomaly, and apparent crustal thickness between inside-corner and outside-corner crust. This demands fundamentally asymmetric crustal accretion and extension across the ridge axis, which we attribute to low-angle, detachment faulting near segment ends. Cyclic variations in residual gravity over the crossisochron run of segments also suggest crustal-thickness changes of at least 1–2 km every 2–3 m.y. These are interpreted to be caused by episodes of magmatic versus relatively amagmatic extension, controlled by retention and quasiperiodic release of melt from the upwelling mantle. Detachment faulting appears to be especially effective in exhuming lower crust to upper mantle at inside corners during relatively amagmatic episodes, creating crustal domes analogous to “turtleback” metamorphic core complexes that are formed by low-angle, detachment faulting in subaerial extensional environments.

publication date

  • May 10, 1997