Marine Geophysical Researches

, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 261-283

First online:

The Vema fracture zone and the tectonics of transverse shear zones in oceanic crustal plates

  • Tjeerd H. Van AndelAffiliated withDepartment of Oceanography, Oregon State University
  • , Richard P. Von HerzenAffiliated withWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • , J. D. PhillipsAffiliated withWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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At 11°N latitude, the Mid-Atlantic ridge is offset 300 km by the Vema fracture zone. Between the ridge offset, the fracture consists of an elongate, parallelogram-shaped trough bordered on the north and south by narrow, high walls. The W-E trending valley floor is segmented by basement ridges and troughs which trend W10°N and are deeply buried by sediment. Uniform high heat flow characterizes the valley area. Seismically inactive valleys south of the Vema fracture, also trending W10°N, are interpreted as relict fracture zones. We explain the high heat flow and the shape of the Vema fracture as the results of secondary sea-floor spreading produced by a reorientation of the direction of sea-floor spreading from W10°N to west-east. This reorientation probably began approximately 10 million years ago. Rapid filling of the fracture valley by turbidites from the Demerara Abyssal plain took place during the last million years.

The large amount of differential uplift in the Vema fracture is not explained by the reorientation model. Since the spreading rate across the valley is small compared to that across the ridge crest, we suggest that it takes place by intrusion of very thin dikes that cool rapidly and hence have high viscosity. Upwelling in the fracture valley will thus result in cosiderable loss of hydraulic head, according to models by Sleep and Biehler (1970), and recovery of the lost head could produce valley walls higher than the adjacent ridge crest. We further postulate that the spreading takes place along the edges of the fracture zone rather than in the center. This would account for the uniform distribution of heat flow along the fracture valley and for the lack of disturbance of the valley fill. As a consequence, a median ridge should form in the center, where head loss is compensated in the older crust; such a median ridge may be present. The width of the valley should be a function of the angle and time of reorientation, and of the spreading rate; the width so obtained for the Vema fracture is in accordance with the observed width. If this model is correct, the narrowness of the valley walls implies a thin lithosphere of very limited horizontal strength.