The validity of magnetic granulometric estimates relies heavily on the ability to distinguish ultrafine particles from coarser grains. For example, populations with dominantly superparamagnetic (SP) or multidomain (MD) grains both are characterized by low remanence and coercivity, and distinguishing these endmembers may provide valuable clues to the origin of magnetization in the intervening stable single domain (SD) size range. The natural grain size variations associated with variable cooling rates in submarine lavas provide a rare opportunity for examining progressive changes in average magnetic grain size, from SP-SD mixtures in submarine basaltic glass to SD-MD mixtures in flow interiors. Based on microanalysis and rock magnetic measurements on pillow basalt samples dredged from the flanks of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (ages <1 Ma to 70 Ma), a model of preferential dissolution with time of the finest-grained titanomagnetites has recently been suggested as the major process contributing to long-term temporal changes in remanent intensity of mid-ocean ridge basalts. We evaluated the local and long-term temporal trends in effective magnetic grain size predicted by this model using hysteresis data from a large number of submarine basalt samples which span a range of apes from similar to 0 to similar to 122 Ma. Specimens were systematically taken along transects perpendicular to the chilled margin of each sample. The large number of data (similar to 750 loops) and the inferred progressive change in grain size approaching the chilled margin allow recognition of mixing trends between MD and SD grains and between SD and SP grains on a Day-plot. These trends in hysteresis parameters are crucial to resolving the inherent, but frequently overlooked, ambiguity in inferring grain size from hysteresis parameters. We illustrate that two additional rock magnetic tests (warming of a low-temperature isothermal remanence and hysteresis loop shapes) often used to address these ambiguities are inconclusive, requiring some independent knowledge of whether SP or MD grains are likely to be present. Even with a considerably larger data set the substantial intrasample variability in oceanic basalts precludes recognition of any systematic trend in magnetic grain size with age. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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