The axial high of the East Pacific Rise (EPR) is bounded by ridge-parallel lateral grabens that develop 2-8 km off-axis. These troughs appear to lengthen away from the ridge crest, suggesting that tectonics is active at least 10 km away from the axis. Along 15-20% of the length of the ridge the axial high is notched by a summit trough 500 to 1800 m wide. These large axial troughs represent elongated collapse calderas that form when the EPR magma reservoir (comprising the melt lens and the underlying crystal mush zone) deforms and compacts during periods of waning magma supply under continuous stretching. We report the results of analog experiments performed in order to constrain the tectonic-magmatic evolution of the crestal region of fast spreading ridges and more particularly the possible link that may exist between the development of axial caldera and the creation of lateral along the crestal region. We used inflatable elongated balloons filled with water as an analog of the magma reservoir. The balloon is capped with a silicone layer representing hot rocks below the brittle-ductile transition and is covered by a sand layer representing the brittle crust. The sand surface was given a dome shape that approximates the morphology of a fast spreading ridge, Mobile walls activated by a stepping motor allowed us to conduct the deflation experiments during continuous extension. Combination of deflation and extension leads to the creation of two lateral depressions and one axial trough. The lateral depressions are controlled by normal faults, while the central trough is delineated by reverse faults. During balloon deflation, tectonic extension is accommodated away from the axis due to the presence of the ductile silicone layer, whereas the deflation of the axial reservoir is accommodated by the collapse of the overlaying brittle crust. This accounts (1) for the development of axial troughs as collapse calderas, and (2) for the ubiquitous formation of lateral grabens of the flanking tectonic province in response to the deformation of the crystal mush.
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