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How supercontinents and superoceans affect seafloor roughness


Whittaker, J and Muller, RD and Roest, WR and Wessel, P and Smith, WHF, How supercontinents and superoceans affect seafloor roughness, Nature, 456, (18/25 December 2008) pp. 938-942. ISSN 0028-0836 (2008) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2008 Macmillan Publishers

DOI: doi:10.1038/nature07573


Seafloor roughness varies considerably across the world’s ocean basins and is fundamental to controlling the circulation and mixing of heat in the ocean1 and dissipating eddy kinetic energy2. Models derived from analyses of active mid-ocean ridges suggest that ocean floor roughness depends on seafloor spreading rates3, with rougher basement forming below a half-spreading rate threshold of 30–35mmyr21 (refs 4, 5), as well as on the local interaction of mid-ocean ridges with mantle plumes or coldspots6. Here we present a global analysis of marine gravity-derived roughness, sediment thickness, seafloor isochrons and palaeospreading rates7 of Cretaceous to Cenozoic ridge flanks. Our analysis reveals that, after eliminating effects related to spreading rate and sediment thickness, residual roughness anomalies of 5–20 mGal remain over large swaths of ocean floor. We found that the roughness as a function of palaeo-spreading directions and isochron orientations7 indicates that most of the observed excess roughness is not related to spreading obliquity, as this effect is restricted to relatively rare occurrences of very high obliquity angles (.456). Cretaceous Atlantic ocean floor, formed over mantle previously overlain by the Pangaea supercontinent, displays anomalously low roughness away from mantle plumes and is independent of spreading rates. We attribute this observation to a sub- Pangaean supercontinental mantle temperature anomaly8 leading to slightly thicker than normal Late Jurassic and Cretaceous Atlantic crust9, reduced brittle fracturing and smoother basement relief. In contrast, ocean crust formed above Pacific superswells10, probably reflecting metasomatized lithosphere underlain by mantle at only slightly elevated temperatures11, is not associated with basement roughness anomalies. These results highlight a fundamental difference in the nature of large-scale mantle upwellings below supercontinents and superoceans, and their impact on oceanic crustal accretion.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:seafloor, roughness, plate tectonics, mantle
Research Division:Earth Sciences
Research Group:Geology
Research Field:Marine geoscience
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in the earth sciences
UTAS Author:Whittaker, J (Associate Professor Jo Whittaker)
ID Code:84439
Year Published:2008
Web of Science® Times Cited:23
Deposited By:IMAS Research and Education Centre
Deposited On:2013-05-14
Last Modified:2013-08-06

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