Oceanic Crustal Thickness from Seismic Measurements and Rare-Earth Element Inversions

TitleOceanic Crustal Thickness from Seismic Measurements and Rare-Earth Element Inversions
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsWhite, RS, Mckenzie, D, Onions, RK
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth
Date PublishedDec 10
Accession NumberWOS:A1992KD95100009

Seismic refraction results show that the igneous section of oceanic crust averages 7.1 +/- 0.8 km thick away from anomalous regions such as fracture zones and hot-spots, with extremal bounds of 5.0-8.5 km. Rare earth element inversions of the melt distribution in the mantle source region suggest that sufficient melt is generated under normal oceanic spreading centers to produce an 8.3 +/- 1.5 km thick igneous crust. The difference between the thickness estimates from seismics and from rare earth element inversions is not significant given the uncertainties in the mantle source composition, though it is of the magnitude that would be expected if partial melt fractions of about 1% remain in the mantle and are not extracted to the overlying crust. The inferred igneous thickness increases to 10.3 +/- 1.7 km (seismic measurements) and 10.7 +/- 1.6 km (rare earth element inversions) where spreading centers intersect the regions of hotter than normal mantle surrounding mantle plumes. This is consistent with melt generation by decompression of the hotter mantle as it rises beneath spreading centers. Maximum inferred melt volumes are found on aseismic ridges directly above the central rising cores of mantle plumes, and average 20 +/- 1 and 18 +/- 1 km for seismic profiles and rare earth element inversions respectively. Both seismic measurements and rare earth element inversions show evidence for variable local crustal thinning beneath fracture zones, though some basalts recovered from fracture zones are indistinguishable geochemically from those generated on normal ridge segments away from fracture zones. This is consistent with a model where the melt generated beneath spreading ridges is redistributed to intrusive centers along the ridge axis, from where it may flow laterally along the axis at crustal or surface levels. The melt may sometimes flow into the bathymetric lows associated with fracture zones. Oceanic crust created at very slow-spreading ridges, and in regions adjacent to some continental margins where rifting was initially very slow, exhibits anomalously thin crust from seismic measurements and unusually small amounts of melt generation from rare earth element inversions. We attribute the decreased mantle melting on very slow-spreading ridges to the conductive heat loss that enables the mantle to cool as it rises beneath the rift.