A geological model for the structure of ridge segments in slow spreading ocean crust Academic Article uri icon


  • First-order (transform) and second-order ridge-axis discontinuities create a fundamental segmentation of the lithosphere along mid-ocean ridges, and in slow spreading crust they commonly are associated with exposure of subvolcanic crust and upper mantle. We analyzed available morphological, gravity, and rock sample data from the Atlantic Ocean to determine whether consistent structural patterns occur at these discontinuities and to constrain the processes that control the patterns. The results show that along their older, inside-corner sides, both first-and second-order discontinuities are characterized by thinned crust and/or mantle exposures as well as by irregular fault patterns and a paucity of volcanic features. Crust on young, outside-corner sides of discontinuities has more normal thickness, regular fault patterns, and common volcanic forms. These patterns are consistent with tectonic thinning of crust at inside corners by low-angle detachment faults as previously suggested for transform discontinuities by Dick et al. [1981] and Karson [1990]. Volcanic upper crust accretes in the hanging wall of the detachment, is stripped from the inside-corner footwall, and is carried to the outside comer. Gravity and morphological data suggest that detachment faulting is a relatively continuous, long-lived process in crust spreading at <25–30 mm/yr, that it rnay be intermittent at intermediate rates of 25–40 mm/yr, and that it is unlikely to occur at faster rates. Detachment surfaces are dissected by later, high-angle faults formed during crustal uplift into the rift mountains; these faults can cut through the entire crust and may be the kinds of faults imaged by seismic reflection profiling over Cretaceous North Atlantic crust. Off-axis variations in gravity anomalies indicate that slow spreading crust experiences cyclic magmatic/amagmatic extension and that a typical cycle is about 2 m.y. long. During magmatic phases the footwall of the detachment fault probably exposes lower crustal gabbros, although these rocks locally may have an unconformable volcanic carapace. During amagmatic extension the detachment may dip steeply through the crust, providing a mechanism whereby upper mantle ultramafic rocks can be exhumed very rapidly, perhaps in as little as 0.5 m.y. Together, detachment faulting and cyclic magmatic/amagmatic extension create strongly heterogeneous lithosphere both along and across isochrons in slow spreading ocean crust.

publication date

  • June 10, 1994