Mid-ocean ridge magmatic processes

The axial graben of the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge is heavily faulted due to a period of low magmatic activity while the sea floor continued to spread. Summit Seamount, mapped by the MBARI Mapping AUV (see map below), erupted just prior to the formation of the modern axial valley and remnant blocks are strewn across the entire width of the axial valley from its dissection by extensional faults. Age dating of sediments on the seamount gives a minimum age for the seamount, and therefore for the beginning of the most recent tectonic phase of Endeavour’s cyclic geologic history.

The ridge segment is currently in a hydrothermal phase while magmatic activity is beginning to increase. The faults farther south on the ridge provide pathways for hydrothermal fluids that vent as black smokers and have built large sulfide chimneys for which the ridge segment is most well known.

Cone on the Endeavour Segment was diced by faults as the ridge spread.

Summit Seamount on the Endeavour Segment was diced by faults as the ridge spread.

Escanaba Trough is a 130 km long basin in the southern part of the Gorda Ridge, bounded in the south by the Mendocino Fracture Zone. The rift-valley floor is filled with thick sequences of sediments derived from the continent, fallout from the great floods that carved the Columbia Gorge in the Pleistocene. Lava has intruded as sills into the sediments, uplifting broad hills. Some assimilation of the sediment into the intruded lava has changed its chemical composition. This contamination offers insight into the extent to which processes that occur as lava ascends through the crust, as opposed to original mantle source heterogeneity, influence normal mid-ocean ridge basalt composition.

Our research on magmatic processes at mid-ocean ridges

Overlapping spreading center: balance between faulting and accretion

AXIAL SEAMOUNT – Plate divergence along mid-ocean ridges is accommodated through faulting and magmatic accretion, and, at overlapping spreading centers (OSC), is distributed across two curvilinear overlapping ridge axes. One-meter resolution bathymetry acquired by autonomous underwater vehicles, combined with distribution and ages of lava flows, is used to: (a) analyze the spatial and temporal distribution of flows, faults, and fissures in the OSC between the distal south rift zone of Axial Seamount and the Vance Segment, (b) locate spreading axes, (c) calculate extension, and (d) determine the proportion of extension accommodated at the surface by faults and fissures versus volcanic extrusion over a period of ∼1300–1450 years. Our study reveals that in the recent history of the ridges, extension over a distance of 14 km across the Axial/Vance OSC was asymmetric in proportion and style: faults and fissures across 1–2 km of the Vance axial valley accommodated ∼3/4 of the spreading, whereas dike-fed eruptions contributed ∼1/4 of the extension and occurred across 4 km of the south rift of Axial Seamount.

Reference: Le Saout, M., Clague, D. A., & Paduan, J. B. (2022). Faulting and magmatic accretion across the overlapping spreading center between Vance Segment and Axial south rift, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 23, e2021GC010082. doi: 10.1029/2021GC010082.

Rare rhyolite on a mid-ocean ridge formed during a period of low magmatic supply

ALARCON RISE -The first known occurrence of rhyolite along the submarine segments of the mid-ocean ridge (MOR) system was discovered on Alarcon Rise, the northernmost segment of the East Pacific Rise (EPR), by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in 2013. Zircon trace element and Hf and O isotope patterns indicate that the rhyolite formed by extreme crystal fractionation of primary mid-ocean ridge basalt (MORB) sourced from normal to enriched MOR mantle with little to no addition of continental lithosphere or hydrated oceanic crust. A large range in zircon ɛHf spanning 11 ɛ units is comparable to the range of whole rock ɛHf from the entire EPR. This variability is comparable to continental granitoids that develop over long periods of time from multiple sources. Zircon geochronology from Alarcon Rise suggests that at least 20 kyr was needed for rhyolite petrogenesis. Grain-scale textural discontinuities and trace element trends from zircon cores and rims are consistent with crystal fractionation from a MORB magma with possible perturbations associated with mixing or replenishment events. Comparison of whole rock and zircon oxygen isotopes with modeled fractionation and zircon-melt patterns suggests that, after they formed, rhyolite magmas entrained hydrated mafic crust from conduit walls during ascent and/or were hydrated by seawater in the vent during eruption. These data do not support a model where rhyolites formed directly from partial melts of hydrated oceanic crust or do they require assimilation of such crust during fractional crystallization, both models being commonly invoked for the formation of oceanic plagiogranites and dacites. A spatial association of highly evolved lavas (rhyolites) with an increased number of fault scarps on the northern Alarcon Rise might suggest that low magma flux for ~20 kyr facilitated extended magma residence necessary to generate rhyolite from MORB.

Reference: Portner, R., Dreyer, B.M., Clague, D.A., Daczko, N., & Castillo, P.R. (2022). Oceanic zircon records extreme fractional crystallization of MORB to rhyolite on the Alarcon Rise Mid-Ocean Ridge, Journal of Petrology, 63, 1-25. doi: 10.1093/petrology/egac040

Ridge axis morphology evolves with changes in magmatic activity

ALARCON RISE and ENDEAVOUR RIDGE – Mid‐ocean ridge axes are marked by segmentation of the axes and underlying magmatic systems. Fine‐scale segmentation has mainly been studied along fast‐spreading ridges. Here we offer insight into the third‐ and fourth‐order segmentation of intermediate‐spreading ridges and their temporal evolution. The Alarcón Rise and the Endeavour Segment have similar spreading rates (49 and 52.5 mm/year, respectively) but contrasting morphologies that vary from an axial high with a relatively narrow axial summit trough to an axial valley. One‐meter resolution bathymetry acquired by autonomous underwater vehicles, lava geochemistry, and ages from sediment cores is combined with available seismic reflection profiles to analyze variations in (1) geometry and orientation of the axial summit trough or valley, (2) seafloor depth near the axis, and (3) distribution of hydrothermal vents, (4) lava chemistry, and (5) flow ages between contiguous axes. Along both intermediate‐spreading segments, third‐ and fourth‐order discontinuities and associated segments are similar in dimension to what has been observed along fast‐spreading ridges. The Alarcón Rise and the Endeavour Segment also allow the study of the evolution of fine‐scale segmentation over periods of 300 to 4,000 years. Comparison between old and young axes reveals that the evolution of fine‐scale segmentation depends on the intensity of the magmatic activity. High magmatic periods are associated with rapid evolution of third‐order segments, while low magmatic activity periods, dominated by tectonic deformation and/or hydrothermal activity, are associated with little to no change in segmentation.

Reference: LeSaout, M., Clague, D.A. & Paduan, J.B. (2019). Evolution of fine-scale segmentation at Intermediate-spreading rate ridges, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, doi: 10.1029/2019GC008218.

Geology of the Alarcon Rise spreading segment

GULF OF CALIFORNIA – Meter-scale AUV bathymetric mapping and ROV sampling of the entire 47 km-long Alarcon Rise between the Pescadero and Tamayo transforms show that the shallowest inflated portion of the segment hosts all four active hydrothermal vent fields and the youngest, hottest, and highest effusion rate lava flows. This shallowest inflated part is located ~1/3 of the way between the Tamayo and Pescadero transforms and is paved by a 16 km2 channelized flow that erupted from 9 km of en echelon fissures and is larger than historic flows on the East Pacific Rise or on the Gorda and Juan de Fuca Ridges. Starting ~5 km south of the Pescadero transform, 6.5 km of the Alarcon Rise is characterized by faulted ridges and domes of fractionated lavas ranging from basaltic andesite to rhyolite with up to 77.3 wt % SiO2. These are the first known rhyolites from the submarine global mid-ocean ridge system. Silicic lavas range from >11.7 ka, to as young as 1.1 ka. A basalt-to-basaltic andesite sequence and an andesite-to-dacite-to-rhyolite sequence are consistent with crystal fractionation but some intermediate basaltic andesite and andesite formed by mixing basalt with dacite or rhyolite. Magmatism occurred along the bounding Tamayo and Pescadero transforms as extensive channelized flows. The flows erupted from ring faults surrounding uplifted sediment hills inferred to overlie sills. The transforms are transtensional to accommodate magma migration from the adjacent Alarcon Rise.

Reference: Clague, D.A., Caress, D.W., Dreyer, B.M., Lundsten, L., Paduan, J.B., Portner, R.A., Spelz-Madero, R., Bowles, J.A., Castillo, P.R., Guardado-France, R., Le Saout, M., Martin, J.F., Santa Rosa-del Rio, M.A., & Zierenberg, R.A. (2018). Geology of the Alarcon Rise, Southern Gulf of California. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. doi: 10.1002/2017GC007348.

CO2 degassing records physical processes of magma storage, conduit paths, and lava flows

Quantitative metrics for eruption rates at mid-ocean ridges (MORs) would improve our understanding of the structure and formation of the uppermost oceanic crust and would provide a means to link volcanic processes with the conditions of the underlying magmatic system. However, these metrics remain elusive because no MOR eruptions have been directly observed. The possibility of disequilibrium degassing in mid-ocean ridge basalts (MORB), due to high eruptive depressurization rates, makes the analysis of volatile concentrations in MORB glass a promising method for evaluating eruption rates. In this study, we estimate magma ascent and lava flow emplacement rates during the 2011 eruption of Axial Seamount based on numerical modeling of diffusion-controlled bubble growth and new measurements of dissolved volatiles, vesicularity, and vesicle size distributions in erupted basalts. This dataset provides a unique view of the variability in magma ascent (∼0.02–1.2 m/s) and lava flow rates (∼0.1–0.7 m/s) during a submarine MOR eruption based on 50 samples collected from a >10 km long fissure system and three individual lava flow lobes. Samples from the 2011 eruption display an unprecedented range in dissolved CO2concentrations, nearly spanning the full range observed on the global MOR system. The variable vesicularity and dissolved CO2concentrations in these samples can be explained by differences in the extent of degassing, dictated by flow lengths and velocities during both vertical ascent and horizontal flow along the seafloor. Our results document, for the first time, the variability in magma ascent rates during a submarine eruption (∼0.02–1.2 m/s), which spans the global range previously proposed based on CO2degassing. The slowest ascent rates are associated with hummocky flows while faster ascent rates produce channelized sheet flows. This study corroborates degassing-based models for eruption rates using comparisons with independent methods and documents the relationship between eruption dynamics, magma ascent rates, and the morphology of eruptive products. Globally, this approach allows interrogation of the processes that govern mid-ocean ridge eruptions and influence the formation of the oceanic crust.

Reference: Jones, M.R., Soule, S.A., Gonnermann, H.M., Le Roux, V., & Clague, D.A. (2018). Magma ascent and lava flow emplacement rates during the 2011 Axial Seamount eruption based on CO2 degassing. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 494, 32-41. doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2018.04.044.

2015 eruption at Axial Seamount from a zoned magma body

AXIAL SEAMOUNT – Axial Seamount is the best monitored submarine volcano in the world, providing an exceptional window into the dynamic interactions between magma storage, transport, and eruption processes in a mid-ocean ridge setting. An eruption in April 2015 produced the largest volume of erupted lava since monitoring and mapping began in the mid-1980s after the shortest repose time, due to a recent increase in magma supply. The higher rate of magma replenishment since 2011 resulted in the eruption of the most mafic lava in the last 500–600 years. Eruptive fissures at the volcano summit produced pyroclastic ash that was deposited over an area of at least 8 km2. A systematic spatial distribution of compositions is consistent with a single dike tapping different parts of a thermally and chemically zoned magma reservoir that can be directly related to previous multichannel seismic-imaging results.

Reference: Chadwick, W. W., Paduan, J. B., Clague, D. A., Dreyer, B. M., Merle, S. G., Bobbitt, A. M., … Nooner, S. L. (2016). Voluminous eruption from a zoned magma body after an increase in supply rate at Axial Seamount. Geophysical Research Letters. doi: 10.1002/2016GL071327.

Spatial and temporal scales of mantle enrichment

ENDEAVOUR SEGMENT – Major +/- trace element and Sr–Nd–Pb–Hf–He isotope data are presented for more than 300 geo- chemically diverse basalt samples collected by submersible from the Inflated Central Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Seven chemically distinct basalt types are present, from depleted (D-) to enriched mid-ocean ridge basalt (E-MORB). By combining the geochemical data with high-resolution bathymetry and age determinations, the detailed spatial and temporal scale of on-axis mantle-derived basalt heterogeneity is determined. The basalts define binary mixing arrays in all isotope plots that are usual in their correlations, but unusual in the limited range of Sr–Nd–Hf isotope compositions for D- to E-MORB, and greater range in Pb isotopes. The basalts also define two different styles of enrichment of moderately incompatible elements. Geochemical enrichment began when the currently inflated axial ridge formed <105 years ago. One enrichment style (the Inflated Ridge Trend) characterizes basalts erupted across the ~5 km wide ridge from >10,000 to ~4000 years ago, whereas the other enrichment style (the Graben Trend) characterizes most basalt types erupted within the axial graben after it formed ~2300 years ago. We attribute the Inflated Ridge Trend to a relatively high proportion of pyroxenite (or melt derived therefrom) to enriched peridotite in the mantle during a phase of ridge inflation that lasted at least 6000 years. The Graben Trend reflects the reduced effect of pyroxenite after the axial graben formed. Because at least 14 different samplings of mantle components occurred within <1 km of ridge length and width during a time when <1 km of upwelling occurred, we infer that the scale of mantle heterogeneity far from a plume is < 1 km. The enriched mantle component at Endeavour is young with 206Pb/204Pb ~19.0; Hf and He isotope ratios trend toward HIMU characteristics. These traits are regionally widespread and are shared with the next two ridge segments to the north (West Valley and Explorer).

Reference: Gill, J. P. Michael, J. Woodcock, B. Dreyer, F. Ramos, D. Clague, J. Kela, S. Scott, K. Konrad, and D. Stakes (2016) Spatial and Temporal Scale of Mantle Enrichment at the Endeavour Segment, Juan de Fuca Ridge. J. Petrol. 1-33. doi: 10.1093/petrology/egw024.

Xenoliths in Hawaii offer clues to processes at mid-ocean ridges

Hualalai Volcano – The patterns of axial hydrothermal circulation at mid-ocean ridges both affect and are influenced by the styles of magma plumbing. Therefore, the intensity and distribution of hydrothermal alteration in the lower oceanic crust (LOC) can provide constraints on LOC accretion models (e.g., “gabbro glacier” vs. “multiple sills”). Gabbroic xenoliths from Hualalai Volcano, Hawaii include rare fragments of in situ Pacific lower oceanic crust. Oxygen and strontium isotope compositions of 16 LOC-derived Hualalai gabbros are primarily within the range of fresh MORB, indicating minimal hydrothermal alteration of the in situ Pacific LOC, in contrast to pervasive alteration recorded in LOC xenoliths from the Canary Islands. This difference may reflect less hydrothermal alteration of LOC formed at fast ridges than at slow ridges. Mid-ocean ridge magmas from slow ridges also pond on average at greater and more variable depths and undergo less homogenization than those from fast ridges. These features are consistent with LOC accretion resembling the “multiple sills” model at slow ridges. In contrast, shallow magma ponding and limited hydrothermal alteration in LOC at fast ridges are consistent with the presence of a long-lived shallow magma lens, which limits the penetration of hydrothermal circulation into the LOC.

Most Hualalai gabbros have geochemical and petrologic characteristics indicating derivation from Hualalai shield-stage and post-shield-stage cumulates. These xenoliths provide information on the evolution of Hawaiian magmas and magma storage systems. MELTS modeling and equilibration temperatures constrain the crystallization pressures of 7 Hualalai shield-stage-related gabbros to be ∼2.5–5 kbar, generally consistent with inferred local LOC depth. Therefore a deep magma reservoir existed within or at the base of the LOC during the shield stage of Hualalai Volcano. Melt–crust interaction between Hawaiian melts and in situ Pacific crust during magma storage partially overprinted clinopyroxene Sr and Nd isotope compositions of LOC-derived gabbros. Although minor assimilation of Pacific crust by Hawaiian melts cannot be excluded, the range of oxygen isotope compositions recorded in Hawaiian lavas and cumulates cannot be generated by assimilation of the in situ LOC gabbros, which have relatively uniform and MORB-like δ18O values. To first order, the isotopic heterogeneity observed in Hawaiian melts appears to derive from the heterogeneous plume source(s), rather than assimilation of local oceanic crust.

Reference: Gao, R., J.C. Lassiter, J.D. Barnes, D.A. Clague, W.A. Bohrson (2016) Geochemical investigation of Gabbroic Xenoliths from Hualalai Volcano: Implications for lower oceanic crust accretion and Hualalai Volcano magma storage system. Earth and Plan. Sci. Lett. 442:162-172. doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2016.02.043.

Geologic history of the Endeavour ridge segment

ENDEAVOUR SEGMENT – High-resolution bathymetric surveys from autonomous underwater vehicles ABE and D. Allan B. were merged to create a co-registered map of 71.7 km2 of the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Radiocarbon dating of foraminifera in cores from three dives of remotely operated vehicle Doc Ricketts provide minimum eruption ages for 40 lava flows that are combined with the bathymetric data to outline the eruptive and tectonic history. The ages range from Modern to 10,700 marine-calibrated years before present (yr BP). During a robust magmatic phase from >10,700 yr BP to ~4300 yr BP, flows erupted from an axial high and many flowed >5 km down the flanks; some partly buried adjacent valleys. Axial magma chambers (AMCs) may have been wider than today to supply dike intrusions over a 2-km-wide axial zone. Summit Seamount formed by ~4770 yr BP and was subsequently dismembered during a period of extension with little volcanism starting ~4300 yr BP. This tectonic phase with only rare volcanic eruptions lasted until ~2300 yr BP and may have resulted in near-solidification of the AMCs. The axial graben formed by crustal extension during this period of low magmatic activity. Infrequent eruptions occurred on the flanks between 2620-1760 yr BP and within the axial graben since ~1750 yr BP. This most recent phase of limited volcanic and intense hydrothermal activity that began ~2300 yr BP defines a hydrothermal phase of ridge development that coincides with the present-day 1-km wide AMCs and overlying hydrothermal vent fields.

Reference: Clague, D.A., B.M. Dreyer, J.B. Paduan, J.F. Martin, D.W. Caress, J.B. Gill, D.S. Kelley, H. Thomas, R.A. Portner, J.R. Delaney, T.P. Guilderson, M.L. McGann (2014) Eruptive and tectonic history of the Endeavour segment, Juan de Fuca Ridge, based on AUV mapping data and lava flow ages. Geochem., Geophys., Geosyst., 15(8): 3364-3391. doi: 10.1002/2014GC005415.

Petrological variability at Axial Seamount

AXIAL SEAMOUNT – A combined study of mapping, observational, age constraint, and geochemical data at the summit of Axial Seamount, Juan de Fuca Ridge, has revealed its recent petrological history. Multiple basalt types erupted at the summit in a time sequence. At least three different magma batches have been present beneath the Axial Summit caldera during the last millennium, each with a range in differentiation. The first, prior to 1100 CE, was compositionally diverse, dominantly aphyric T-MORB. The second, from ∼1220 to 1300 CE, was dominantly plagioclase-phyric, more mafic N-MORB erupted mostly in the central portion of the caldera. Since ∼1400 CE, lavas have been more differentiated, and nearly aphyric T-MORB mostly erupted in the caldera’s rift zones. Parental magmas vary subtly due to small coupled differences in the degree of melting and sources, but all share a uniform differentiation trend indicating pooling at similar depths. Thus, melts percolate through melt-rich lenses that remain partially isolated in space and/or time. Centennial magmatic timescales at Axial Seamount are similar to those for fast spreading ridge segments. The fluctuation between aphyric and plagioclase-phyric lava likely reflects different pathways or velocities of melt migration.

Reference: Dreyer, B.M, D.A. Clague, J.B. Gill (2013) Petrological variability of recent magmatism at Axial Seamount summit, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Geochem., Geophys., Geosyst., 14(10): 4306-4333. doi: 10.1002/ggge.20239.

Magmatic evolution on the northern Gorda Ridge

GORDA RIDGE – High-density, precisely located, dive and rock-corer basalt samples from the 65-km-long North Gorda ridge segment reveal compositional diversity as great as for the entire Gorda Ridge. Lava compositions along the ridge axis show considerable major and minor element diversity (MgO 9.2–4.4%, K2O 0.04–0.36%) for lavas erupted in close proximity. Although they form a near-continuum in the higher MgO range, the samples can be separated into two groups; one is typical N-type mid-ocean ridge basalt (MORB) (K2O/TiO2< 0.09), and the other is a more enriched T-MORB (K2O/TiO2 > 0.09). Incompatible elements also reflect this grouping with (Ce/Yb)N < 1 and Zr/Nb > 20 for N-MORB and (Ce/Yb)N > 1 and Zr/Nb < 20 for T-MORB.

Samples collected from off-axis, over a distance of 4 km up the eastern rift valley wall, are all light rare earth element (LREE)-depleted N-MORB with a narrower compositional range (MgO of glasses 7.7 ± 0.3%, Zr/Nb = 38–50; (Ce/Yb)N < 1), although isotopic ratios are comparable to those on-axis. Lavas erupted in the past, before the present-day deep axial valley formed on this part of the ridge, were more uniform N-MORB, generated by larger degrees of melting when magma supply was greater. Basalts from the adjoining southern Juan de Fuca Ridge segment, with comparable spreading rate but distinctly different ridge morphology, are also all LREE-depleted N-MORB, but the narrow range of evolved compositions of the sheet flows covering the broad, U-shaped valley suggests shallower, more steady state magma reservoirs underlying this ridge segment. Basalts from Escanaba, the slowest spreading segment of Gorda Ridge, include N-, T-, and E-MORB that were erupted from isolated volcanic centers.

The pattern of incompatible element enrichment, especially in LREE, K, Ba, and 87Sr/86Sr, with decreasing spreading rate and magma supply is even more pronounced at the ultraslow spreading Arctic ridges where most lavas are E-MORB (Zr/Nb < 10, (Ce/Yb)N >1.0–3.0). Arctic E-MORB compositions lie along a common mixing trend with those from North Gorda. As the magma budget and/or partial melting decreases, a similar enriched component, especially in K, Ba, and LREE, widely present in the oceanic mantle is apparently incorporated to a greater degree. At North Gorda, morphology and chemical characteristics appear to evolve with time toward that of ultraslow spreading ridges.

Reference: Davis, A. S., D. A. Clague, B. L. Cousens, R. Keaten, J. B. Paduan (2008) Geochemistry of basalt from the North Gorda segment of the Gorda Ridge: Evolution toward ultraslow spreading ridge lavas due to decreasing magma supply, Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, 9, Q04004, doi: 10.1029/2007GC001775.


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