MacLeod, C.J., Searle, R.C., Murton, B.J., Casey, J.F., Mallows, C., Unsworth, S.C., Achenbach, K.L. and Harris, M.
Life cycle of oceanic core complexes
Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 287, (3-4), . (doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2009.08.016).
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Oceanic core complexes are the uplifted footwalls of very-large-offset low-angle normal faults that exhume lower crust and mantle rocks onto the seafloor at slow-spreading ridges. Although it is suggested on the basis of numerical modelling that they form during periods of relatively reduced magma supply, little is known about how they initiate and become inactive, nor why only certain normal fault systems develop into core complexes. In this paper we present results from a near-bottom sidescan sonar/bathymetric profiler survey and sampling study of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge near 13°N that identify the critical controls on oceanic core complex development and evolution. We show that core complex detachment faults initiate as high-angle (65° ± 10°) normal faults no different from surrounding valley-wall faults and, like them, rapidly flatten to dips of 30° in response to flexural unloading; however, on certain structures slip continues rather than being relayed inward onto a new normal fault. Runaway displacement appears to be triggered primarily by local waning of magma supply below a critical threshold, then aided by strain localisation resulting from seawater penetration and talc formation along the fault zones. Spreading becomes markedly asymmetric when the core complexes are active, and volcanism is suppressed or absent. When the asymmetry is such that the detachments accommodate more than half the total plate separation the active faults migrate across the axial valley. As a consequence magma is emplaced into and captured by the footwall of the detachment fault rather than being injected into the hanging wall, explaining the frequent presence of gabbro bodies and other melt relicts at oceanic core complexes. Core complexes are ultimately terminated when sufficient magma is emplaced to overwhelm the detachment fault; in the 13°N area by neovolcanic ridges propagating laterally across them from magmatically robust segments along strike.
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