Publications

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2015
O'Connor, JM, Hoernle K, Muller RD, Morgan JP, Butterworth NP, Hau F, Sandwell DT, Jokat W, Wijbrans JR, Stoffers P.  2015.  Deformation-related volcanism in the Pacific Ocean linked to the Hawaiian-Emperor bend. Nature Geoscience. 8:393-397.   10.1038/ngeo2416   AbstractWebsite

Ocean islands, seamounts and volcanic ridges are thought to form above mantle plumes. Yet, this mechanism cannot explain many volcanic features on the Pacific Ocean floor(1) and some might instead be caused by cracks in the oceanic crust linked to the reorganization of plate motions(1-3). A distinctive bend in the Hawaiian-Emperor volcanic chain has been linked to changes in the direction of motion of the Pacific Plate(4,5), movement of the Hawaiian plume(6-8), or a combination of both(9). However, these links are uncertain because there is no independent record that precisely dates tectonic events that affected the Pacific Plate. Here we analyse the geochemical characteristics of lava samples collected from the Musicians Ridges, lines of volcanic seamounts formed close to the Hawaiian-Emperor bend. We find that the geochemical signature of these lavas is unlike typical ocean island basalts and instead resembles mid-ocean ridge basalts. We infer that the seamounts are unrelated to mantle plume activity and instead formed in an extensional setting, due to deformation of the Pacific Plate. Ar-40/Ar-39 dating reveals that the Musicians Ridges formed during two time windows that bracket the time of formation of the Hawaiian-Emperor bend, 53-52 and 48-47 million years ago. We conclude that the Hawaiian-Emperor bend was formed by plate-mantle reorganization, potentially triggered by a series of subduction events at the Pacific Plate margins.

2004
Sandwell, D, Fialko Y.  2004.  Warping and cracking of the Pacific plate by thermal contraction. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth. 109   10.1029/2004jb003091   AbstractWebsite

Lineaments in the gravity field and associated chains of volcanic ridges are widespread on the Pacific plate but are not yet explained by plate tectonics. Recent studies have proposed that they are warps and cracks in the plate caused by uneven thermal contraction of the cooling lithosphere. We show that the large thermoelastic stress produced by top-down cooling is optimally released by lithospheric flexure between regularly spaced parallel cracks. Both the crack spacing and approximate gravity amplitude are predicted by elastic plate theory and variational principle. Cracks along the troughs of the gravity lineaments provide conduits for the generation of volcanic ridges in agreement with new observations from satellite-derived gravity. Our model suggests that gravity lineaments are a natural consequence of lithospheric cooling so that convective rolls or mantle plumes are not required.

1996
Levitt, DA, Sandwell DT.  1996.  Modal depth anomalies from multibeam bathymetry: Is there a south Pacific superswell? Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 139:1-16.   10.1016/0012-821x(95)00247-a   AbstractWebsite

A region west of the southern East Pacific Rise (SEPR), between the Marquesas and Austral Fracture Zones has previously been found to exhibit anomalous depth-age behavior, based on gridded bathymetry and single-beam soundings. Since gridded bathymetry has been shown to be unsuitable for some geophysical analysis and since the area is characterized by unusually robust volcanism, the magnitude and regional extent of depth anomalies over the young eastern flank of the so called 'South Pacific Superswell' are re-examined using a mode-seeking estimation procedure on data obtained from several recent multibeam surveys. The modal technique estimates a representative seafloor depth, based on the assumption that bathymetry from non-edifice and edifice-populated seafloor has a low and a high standard deviation, respectively. Flat seafloor depth values are concentrated in a few bins which correspond to the mode. This method estimates a representative seafloor value even on seafloor for which more than 90% of coverage is dominated by ridge and seamount clusters, where the mean and median estimates may be shallow by hundreds of meters. Where volcanism-related bias is moderate, the mode, mean and median estimates are close. Depth-age results indicate that there is only a small anomaly (< 200 m) over 15-35 Ma Pacific Plate seafloor with little age-dependent shallowing, suggesting that the lithosphere east of the main hot-spot locations on the 'superswell' is normal. An important implication is that, in sparsely surveyed areas, depths from ETOPO-5 are significantly different from true depths even at large scales (similar to 1000 km) and thus are unsuitable for investigations of anomalies associated with depth-age regressions. We find that seafloor slopes on conjugate profiles of the Pacific and Nazca Plates from 15 to 35 Ma are both slightly lower than normal, but are within the global range. Proximate to the SEPR, seafloor slopes are very low (218 m Myr(-1/2)) on the Pacific Plate (0-22 Ma) and slightly high (similar to 410 m Myr(-1/2)) on the Nazca Plate (0-8 Ma); slopes for older Pacific seafloor (22-37 Ma) are near normal (399 m Myr(-1/2)). Seafloor slopes are even lower north of the Marquesas Fracture Zone but are highly influenced by the Marquesas Swell. We find that the low subsidence rate on young Pacific seafloor cannot be explained by a local hot-spot or a small-scale convective model exclusively and a stretching/thickening model requires implausible crustal thickness variation (similar to 30%).

1994
Phipps Morgan, J, Sandwell DT.  1994.  Systematics of Ridge Propagation South of 30-Degrees-S. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 121:245-258.   10.1016/0012-821X(94)90043-4   AbstractWebsite

New high-resolution Geosat altimetry data south of 30 degrees S reveal numerous propagating ridge wakes along intermediate- and slow-spreading ridges. These new examples provide a large enough database to establish systematics of ridge propagation. Almost all active propagating ridges propagate down a regional along-axis gravity or bathymetry gradient. The sense of the propagating ridge offset (right lateral vs, left lateral) is related to recent changes in spreading direction. We find there is a significant difference between the propagation of ridges with an axial high morphology which propagate at greater than similar to 50% of their full-spreading rate and ridges with a median valley morphology which usually propagate at similar to 25% of their spreading rate. The axial high propagators leave behind an asymmetric wake; the outer pseudofault appears as a continuous linear trough/step while the sheared zone appears as a chain of small gravity bumps. While we clearly see the propagating ridge wakes from offsets greater than similar to 10 km at slow- and intermediate-spreading ridges, at ridges spreading faster than similar to 75 mm/yr the amplitude of the wake topography decreases to the point where we no longer see these wakes in Geosat altimetry data. The systematics seen in this new data set support a fracture mechanics model for the dynamics of ridge propagation.

1991
Marks, KM, Sandwell DT.  1991.  Analysis of Geoid Height Versus Topography for Oceanic Plateaus and Swells Using Nonbiased Linear-Regression. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth and Planets. 96:8045-8055.   10.1029/91jb00240   AbstractWebsite

We have investigated the relationship between geoid height and topography for 53 oceanic plateaus and swells to determine the mode of compensation. The ratio of geoid height to topography was obtained from the slope of a best line fit by functional analysis (i.e. nonbiased linear regression), a method that minimizes both geoid height and topography residuals. This method is more appropriate than traditional least squares analysis that minimizes only geoid height residuals, because uncertainties are present in both data types. We find that approximately half of the oceanic and continental plateaus analyzed have low ratios that are consistent with Airy-compensated crustal thickening. The remaining plateaus, however, have higher geoid/topography ratios than predicted by the simple Airy model, and the seismically determined Moho depths beneath some of these features are too shallow for crustal thickening alone. A two-layer Airy compensation model, composed of thickened crust underlain by an anomalously low density "mantle root", is used to explain these observations. The Walvis Ridge, and the Agulhas, Crozet, and north Kerguelen plateaus have geoid/topography ratios and Moho depths that are consistent with the two-layer Airy model. The proximity of the Agulhas Plateau to a RRR triple junction during its early development, and the excessive volcanism at active spreading ridges that created the Crozet and north Kerguelen plateaus and the Walvis Ridge, may have produced regions of enhanced depletion and hence the low-density mantle anomalies. If this explanation is correct, then the low-density mantle anomaly persists over time and remains embedded in the lithosphere beneath the oceanic feature.