The Atlantis Bank Gabbro Massif, Southwest Indian Ridge

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Abstract

This paper presents the first detailed geologic map of in situ lower ocean crust; the product of six surveys of Atlantis Bank on the SW Indian Ridge. This combined with major and trace element compositions of primary magmatic phases in 99 seafloor gabbros shows there are both significant vertical and ridge-parallel variations in crustal composition and thickness, but a continuity of the basic stratigraphy parallel to spreading. This stratigraphy is not that of magmatic sedimentation in a large crustal magma chamber. Instead, it is the product of dynamic accretion where the lower crust formed by episodic intrusion, large-scale upward migration of interstitial melt due to crystal mush compaction, and continuous tectonic extension accompanied by hyper- and sub-solidus, crystal-plastic deformation. Five crossings of the gabbro-peridotite contact along the transform wall show that massive mantle peridotite is intruded by cumulate residues of moderately to highly evolved magmas, few of which could be even close to equilibrium with a primary mantle magma. This contact then does not represent the crust-mantle boundary as envisaged in the ophiolite analog for ocean crust. The residues of the magmas parental to the shallow crust must also lie beneath the center of the complex. This, and the nearly complete absence of dunites in peridotites from the transform wall, shows that melt transport through the shallow lithosphere was largely restricted to the central region of the paleo-ridge segment. There is almost no evidence for a melt lens or high-level storage of primitive melt in the upper 1500 m of Atlantis Bank. Thus, the composition of associated mid-ocean ridge basalt appears largely controlled by fractional crystallization of primitive cumulates at depth, near or at the base of the crust, modified somewhat by melt-rock reaction during transport through the overlying cumulate pile to the seafloor. Inliers of the dike-gabbro transition show that the uppermost gabbros crystallized at depth and were then emplaced upward, as they cooled, into the zone of diking. ODP and IODP drilling along the center of the gabbro massif also found few primitive gabbros that could have been in equilibrium with the original overlying lavas. Evidence of large-scale upward, permeable transport of interstitial melt through the gabbros is ubiquitous. Thus, post-cumulus processes, including extensive reaction, dissolution, and re-precipitation within the cumulate pile have obscured nearly all evidence of earlier primitive origins. We suggest that many of the gabbros may have started as primitive cumulates but were hybridized and transformed by later, migrating melts to evolved compositions, even as they ascended to higher levels, while new primitive cumulates were emplaced near the base of the crust. Mass balance for a likely parental melt intruded from the mantle to form the crust, however, requires that such primitive cumulates must exist at depth beneath Atlantis Bank at the center of the magmatic complex. The Atlantis Bank Gabbro Massif accreted by direct magma intrusion into the lower crust, followed by upward diapiric flow, first as a crystal mush, then by solid-state, crystal-plastic deformation, and finally by detachment faulting to the sea floor. The strongly asymmetric spreading to the south, parallel to the transform, was due to fault capture, with the bounding faults on the northern rift valley wall cut off by the detachment fault, which extended across the zone of intrusion causing rapid migration of the plate boundary to the north. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

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Dick, H. J. B., Kvassnes, A. J. S., Robinson, P. T., MacLeod, C. J., & Kinoshita, H. (2019). The Atlantis Bank Gabbro Massif, Southwest Indian Ridge. Progress in Earth and Planetary Science, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40645-019-0307-9

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