High inside Corners at Ridge-Transform Intersections

Severinghaus, JP, Macdonald KC.  1988.  High inside Corners at Ridge-Transform Intersections. Marine Geophysical Researches. 9:353-367.


A large topographic high commonly occurs near the intersection of a rifted spreading center and a transform fault. The high occurs at the inside of the 90° bend in the plate boundary, and is called the ‘high inside corner’, while the area across the spreading center, the ‘outside corner’, is often anomalously low. To better understand the origin of this topographic asymmetry, we examine topographic maps of 53 ridge-transform intersections. We conclude the following: (1) High inside corners occur at 41 out of 42 ridge-transform intersections at slow spreading ridges, and thus should be considered characteristic and persistent features of rifted slow spreading ridges. They are conspicuously absent at fast spreading ridges or at spreading centers that lack a rift valley. (2) High inside corners occur wherever an axial rift valley is present, and an approximate 1:1 correlation exists between the relief of the rift valley and the magnitude of the asymmetry. (3) Large high inside corners occur at both long and short transform offsets. (4) High inside corners at long offsets decay off-axis faster than predicted by the square root of age cooling model, precluding a thermalisostatic origin, but consistent with dynamic or flexural uplift models.These observations support the existing hypothesis that the asymmetry is due to the contrast in lithospheric coupling that occurs in the active transform versus the inactive fracture zone. Active faulting in the transform breaks the lithosphere along a high angle fault, permitting vertical movement of the inside corner block, whereas the inactive fracture zone forms a weld that couples the outside corner to the adjacent block, preventing it from rising. Large asymmetry at very short transform offsets appears to be caused by the added effect of a second uplift mechanism. Young lithosphere in the rift valley couples to the older plate, and when it leaves the rift valley it lifts the older plate with it. At very short offsets, this ‘coupled uplift’ acts upon the high inside corner; at long offsets, it may upwarp the older plate or its expression may be muted.