Effects of the Melting Regime on the Composition of the Oceanic-Crust

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Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth
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Dec 10
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The physical form of the melting regime and the mechanisms of melt extraction influence the composition of magmas erupted at ocean ridges. We investigate aspects of this relationship, beginning with the assumption that melts can be extracted from the melting regime without significant reequilibration during their passage to the surface. The ocean crust thus represents a mixture of the individual melts. Many melting regimes lead to the same ''residual mantle column'' (RMC), defined as a vertical section through the mantle external to the melting regime. The RMC is the integrated result of melt extraction and is useful in evaluating the geochemical effects of many different types of melting regimes. Consideration of the RMC shows that the ''shape'' of the melting regime is not necessarily an important parameter in affecting the composition of the ocean crust. The important parameters are the way mantle flows through the melting regime and the relationship between melt fraction and pressure during adiabatic melting. Calculating the volume and composition of the ocean crust can be reduced to a simple mixing problem. Virtually all ridge models predict continuous mixing of melts from the solidus to the maximum extent of melting. Given these boundary conditions, even complex melting regimes lead to geochemical results that are similar to those produced by batch melting. Thus batch melting may approximate the net effects of the melting process remarkably well. An important exception to these generalizations is binary mixing between melts of very different composition. This is possible beneath ocean ridges if very low degree melts, formed at the volatile-present solidus, mix with higher-degree melts formed directly beneath the ridge. There are limitations to the effectiveness of such a mixing process because the source volume for the low-degree melts is constrained by the finite pressure interval between the dry and volatile-present solidi of the mantle. These constraints place an upper limit of a factor of 5 on the incompatible element enrichment that can be explained by such mixing. This is a small factor relative to the global variability of mid-ocean ridge basalts. A few local regions, however, show major and trace element covariations that may be consistent with this type of mixing. Adequate data sets to fully test the possibility am lacking. If such mixing occurs, there must be a physical mechanism to focus the lowest degree melts from the furthest reaches of the melting regime into die mantle directly beneath the ridge axis. The physical difficulties associated with horizontal transport of low-degree melts over tens to hundreds of kilometers are imposing and suggest that alternative models should be seriously considered.


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