Gravity evidence of very thin crust at the Gakkel Ridge (Arctic Ocean)

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Earth and Planetary Science Letters
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Gakkel Ridge, the active spreading center in the Arctic Ocean, is the slowest spreading portion of the global mid-ocean ridge system. Total spreading rates range from 0.6 cm/yr in the east where the ridge disappears beneath the Laptev shelf to 1.3 cm/yr in the west near Greenland. Bathymetry and gravity surveys of four sections of the Gakkel Ridge were carried out in 1996 by the U.S. Navy nuclear submarine USS POGY as part of SCICEX 96 in order to sample variations in seafloor morphology and gravity anomalies as a function of spreading rate. The ridge axis throughout the survey area is characterized by a continuous axial rift valley similar to that observed at other slow spreading ridges. The continuous rift axis suggests that well-organized seafloor spreading is occurring at total Spreading rates of less than 1 cm/yr. In three faster spreading (1.13-1.24 cm/yr) western survey areas located between 7 degrees E and 54 degrees E, the Gakkel Ridge is deep compared with other ridge axes. Axial depths range between 4600 and 5100 m and ridge flanks at about 3200 m. The ridge flank morphology is very blocky and is characterized by large scarps and deep fault-bounded troughs. Very large amplitude free-water anomalies with peak-to-trough amplitudes of 85-150 mGal are observed centered on the axis of the Gakkel Ridge. Modeling of the free-water anomalies by varying the crustal thickness and average crustal density, including the gravity effect of the cooling of the mantle away from the axis, implies that if the average crustal density is less than 2900 kg/m(3), the crustal thickness must be less than 4 km. The axial rift valley at the fourth survey area, near 98 degrees E where the total spreading rate is 0.99 cm/yr, is buried by sediments. The axis in this region is associated with a continuous 70 mGal gravity minimum implying the presence of a large buried rift valley. The rift flanks at 95 degrees E are at a depth of greater than 3800 m, 600 m deeper than the average depth at the Gakkel Ridge axis west of 60 degrees E. Simple isostatic calculations suggest that the crust in this region may be vanishingly thin beneath the sediment cover. These observations indicate a relationship between melt production and seafloor spreading rate at very slow spreading rates,suggesting that ultra-slow spreading may suppress melt production or delivery at the Gakkel Ridge. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.


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