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Experimental and Seismological Constraints on the Rheology, Evolution, and Alteration of the Lithosphere at Oceanic Spreading Centers

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Doctoral thesis

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Oceanic spreading centers are sites of magmatic, tectonic, and hydrothermal processes. In this thesis I present experimental and seismological constraints on the evolution of these complex regions of focused crustal accretion and extension. Experimental results from drained, triaxial deformation experiments on partially molten olivine reveal that melt extraction rates are linearly dependent on effective mean stress when the effective mean stress is low and non-linearly dependent on effective mean stress when it is high. Microearthquakes recorded above an inferred magma reservoir along the TAG segment of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge delineate for the first time the arcuate, subsurface structure of a long-lived, active detachment fault. This fault penetrates the entire oceanic crust and forms the high-permeability pathway necessary to sustain long-lived, high-temperature hydrothermal venting in this region. Long-lived detachment faulting exhumes lower crustal and mantle rocks. Residual stresses generated by thermal expansion anisotropy and mismatch in the uplifting, cooling rock trigger grain boundary microfractures if stress intensities at the tips of naturally occurring flaws exceed a critical stress intensity factor. Experimental results coupled with geomechanical models indicate that pervasive grain boundary cracking occurs in mantle peridotite when it is uplifted to within 4 km of the seafloor. Whereas faults provide the high-permeability pathways necessary to sustain high-temperature fluid circulation, grain boundary cracks form the interconnected network required for pervasive alteration of the oceanic lithosphere. This thesis provides fundamental constraints on the rheology, evolution, and alteration of the lithosphere at oceanic spreading centers.

Subject Categories:

  • Physical and Dynamic Oceanography
  • Geology, Geochemistry and Mineralogy

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