The morphology and tectonics of the Mark area from Sea Beam and Sea MARC I observations (Mid-Atlantic Ridge 23° N)


High-resolution Sea Beam bathymetry and Sea MARC I side scan sonar data have been obtained in the MARK area, a 100-km-long portion of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rift valley south of the Kane Fracture Zone. These data reveal a surprisingly complex rift valley structure that is composed of two distinct spreading cells which overlap to create a small, zero-offset transform or discordant zone. The northern spreading cell consists of a magmatically robust, active ridge segment 40–50 km in length that extends from the eastern Kane ridge-transform intersection south to about 23°12′ N. The rift valley in this area is dominated by a large constructional volcanic ridge that creates 200–500 m of relief and is associated with high-temperature hydrothermal activity. The southern spreading cell is characterized by a NNE-trending band of small (50–200 m high), conical volcanos that are built upon relatively old, fissured and sediment-covered lavas, and which in some cases are themselves fissured and faulted. This cell appears to be in a predominantly extensional phase with only small, isolated eruptions. These two spreading cells overlap in an anomalous zone between 23°05′ N and 23°17′ N that lacks a well-developed rift valley or neovolcanic zone, and may represent a slow-spreading ridge analogue to the overlapping spreading centers found at the East Pacific Rise. Despite the complexity of the MARK area, volcanic and tectonic activity appears to be confined to the 10–17 km wide rift valley floor. Block faulting along near-vertical, small-offset normal faults, accompanied by minor amounts of back-tilting (generally less than 5°), begins within a few km of the ridge axis and is largely completed by the time the crust is transported up into the rift valley walls. Features that appear to be constructional volcanic ridges formed in the median valley are preserved largely intact in the rift mountains. Mass-wasting and gullying of scarp faces, and sedimentation which buries low-relief seafloor features, are the major geological processes occurring outside of the rift valley. The morphological and structural heterogeneity within the MARK rift valley and in the flanking rift mountains documented in this study are largely the product of two spreading cells that evolve independently to the interplay between extensional tectonism and episodic variations in magma production rates.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping Affiliate

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Marine Geophysical Research

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