Thermomechanical Evolution of Oceanic Fracture-Zones

Sandwell, DT.  1984.  Thermomechanical Evolution of Oceanic Fracture-Zones. Journal of Geophysical Research. 89:1401-1413.


A fracture zone (FZ) model is constructed from existing models of the thermal and mechanical evolution of the oceanic lithosphere. As the lithosphere cools by conduction, thermal and mechanical boundary layers develop and increase in thickness as (age)1/2. Surface expressions of this development, such as topography and deflection of the vertical (i.e., gravity field), are most apparent along major FZ's because of the sharp age contrast. A simple model, including the effects of lateral heat transport but with no elastic layer, predicts that variations in seafloor depth and deflection of the vertical will become increasingly smooth and ultimately disappear as the FZ ages. Observations, however, show that both the FZ topography and the deflection of the vertical remain sharp as the FZ evolves. These two observations, as well as the observed asymmetry in deflection of the vertical profiles across the Udintsev, Romanche, and Mendocino FZ's, are explained by including a continuous elastic layer in the model. The asymmetry in deflection of the vertical is a consequence of elastic thickness variations across the FZ. Modeling also shows that the evolution of the FZ topography is extremely sensitive to the initial thermal structure near the ridge-transform intersection. Model geoid steps and their development with age are used to access techniques for measuring geoid offsets across FZ's. Reasonable step estimation techniques will underestimate the overall step amplitude by up to 50%. This implies that abnormally thin thermal boundary layers, derived from studies of geoid height versus age, are not required by the data.