The role of seamount volcanism in crustal construction at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (24°-30°N)

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doi: 10.1029/91JB02507
Author(s): Smith, Deborah K.; Cann, Johnson R.
Author Affiliation(s): Primary:
Woods Hole Oceanogr. Inst., Dep. Geol. and Geophys., Woods Hole, MA, United States
Univ. Leeds, United Kingdom
Volume Title: Journal of Geophysical Research
Source: Journal of Geophysical Research, 97(B2), p.1645-1658. Publisher: American Geophysical Union, Washington, DC, United States. ISSN: 0148-0227
Note: In English. Woods Hole Ocenogr. Inst., Contrib. No. 7884. 75 refs.; illus. incl. 3 tables, sketch maps
Summary: An analysis of approximately 6000 km2 of Sea Beam swaths indicates that the floor of the median valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR) between 24°-30°N is strewn with near-circular volcanoes. We have identified 481 seamounts in the height range 50-650 m. Because many of the features which appear to be seamounts do not meet our criteria fully, they have not been counted, and our numbers are likely a minimum estimate of the population. The large abundance of seamounts on the median valley floor indicates that seamount volcanism plays an important role in the accretionary processes at this section of the MAR. The summit height distribution of the MAR seamount population is consistent with the exponential frequency-size distribution model for off-axis eastern Pacific seamounts (Jordan et al., 1983; Smith and Jordan, 1987). The model parameters for the MAR population yield an average of about 195 seamounts per one thousand square kilometers, and a characteristic height of about 60 m. Shape statistics compiled from the 481 seamounts give parameters that are exactly the same, or cover the same range in values as those obtained from a study of Pacific seamounts in the height range 140-3800 m (Smith, 1988) implying a universal control on seamount construction. Based on the volcanic morphology, we identify 18 spreading segments along the ridge. All except two contain a prominent axial volcanic ridge. Many of the seamounts identified are associated with the axial ridges. From the Sea Beam swaths, we infer that the ridges are composed of piled up seamounts and hummocky flows, and interpret them to be the primary sites of crustal construction. This style of volcanism contrasts strongly with that observed at the East Pacific Rise where seamounts are virtually absent at the spreading axis. The construction of seamounts and hummocky flows may be directly related to the fact that the MAR is fed by magma chambers that are limited in size and frequency. We suggest that small magma pockets with slow eruption rates produce seamounts either from pipes or initial fissure eruptions that collapse to construct a single edifice; small magma bodies with somewhat higher eruption rates produce hummocky fissure fed flows. Using buoyancy arguments, the heights of the MAR seamounts are related to the depth of the magma bodies. We hypothesize that small magma bodies rise buoyantly to the base of the hydrothermally cooled brittle lid where they are trapped, and then erupt. If this hypothesis is correct, the thickness of the brittle lid controls seamount height, and the exponential distribution of seamount summit heights implies that the thickness of the brittle Hd follows an exponential distribution in time and space with characteristic thickness 1.4-1.9 km. If seamounts and hummocky flows are fed each from their own discrete magma body trapped at the brittle/ductile transition, then the lower crust of the MAR will be made up of the products of a multitude of small plutons. Copyright 1992 by the American Geophysical Union.
Year of Publication: 1992
Research Program: ODP Ocean Drilling Program
Key Words: 07 Marine Geology and Oceanography; 18 Geophysics, Solid-Earth; Acoustical methods; Atlantic Ocean; Crust; Genesis; Geophysical methods; Geophysical surveys; Leg 106; Leg 109; Magmas; Mid-ocean ridges; North Atlantic Ridge; Ocean Drilling Program; Ocean floors; Oceanic crust; Oceanography; Sea-floor spreading; Seabeam; Seamounts; Sonar methods; Spreading centers; Submarine volcanoes; Surveys; Tectonophysics; Volcanism; Volcanoes; Volcanology
Coordinates: N240000 N300000 W0420000 W0460000
Record ID: 1992007720
Copyright Information: GeoRef, Copyright 2019 American Geosciences Institute.