Westward migration of oceanic ridges and related asymmetric upper mantle differentiation
Chalot-Prat, F and Doglioni, C and Falloon, T, Westward migration of oceanic ridges and related asymmetric upper mantle differentiation, Lithos, 268-271 pp. 163-173. ISSN 0024-4937 (2017) [Refereed Article]
Combining geophysical, petrological and structural data on oceanic mantle lithosphere, underlying asthenosphere and oceanic basalts, an alternative oceanic plate spreading model is proposed in the framework of the westward migration of oceanic spreading ridges relative to the underlying asthenosphere. This model suggests that evolution of both the composition and internal structure of oceanic plates and underlying upper mantle strongly depends at all scales on plate kinematics. We show that the asymmetric features of lithospheric plates and underlying upper asthenosphere on both sides of oceanic spreading ridges, as shown by geophysical data (seismic velocities, density, thickness, and plate geometry), reflect somewhat different mantle compositions, themselves related to various mantle differentiation processes (incipient to high partial melting degree, percolation/reaction and refertilization) at different depths (down to 300 km) below and laterally to the ridge axis. The fundamental difference between western and eastern plates is linked to the westward ridge migration inducing continuing mantle refertilization of the western plate by percolation-reaction with ascending melts, whereas the eastern plate preserves a barely refertilized harzburgitic residue. Plate thickness on both sides of the ridge is controlled both by cooling of the asthenospheric residue and by the instability of pargasitic amphibole producing a sharp depression in the mantle solidus as it changes from vapour-undersaturated to vapour-saturated conditions, its intersection with the geotherm at ∼ 90 km, and incipient melt production right underneath the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary (LAB). Thus the intersection of the geotherm with the vapour-saturated lherzolite solidus explains the existence of a low-velocity zone (LVZ). As oceanic lithosphere is moving westward relative to asthenospheric mantle, this partially molten upper asthenosphere facilitates the decoupling between lower asthenosphere and lithosphere. Thereby the westward drift of the lithosphere is necessarily slowed down, top to down, inducing a progressive decoupling within the mantle lithosphere itself. This intra-mantle decoupling could be at the origin of asymmetric detachment faults allowing mantle exhumation along slow-spreading ridges. Taking into account the asymmetric features of the LVZ, migration of incipient melt fractions and upwelling paths from the lower asthenosphere through the upper asthenosphere are oblique, upward and eastward. MORB are sourced from an eastward and oblique, near-adiabatic mantle upwelling from the lower asthenosphere. This unidirectional mantle transfer is induced by isostatic suction of the migrating spreading ridge.