Electrical resistivity structure of the Valu Fa Ridge, Lau Basin, from marine controlled-source electromagnetic sounding

MacGregor, L, Sinha M, Constable S.  2001.  Electrical resistivity structure of the Valu Fa Ridge, Lau Basin, from marine controlled-source electromagnetic sounding. Geophysical Journal International. 146:217-236.

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back-arc basin, beneath, East Pacific Rise, electrical resistivity, electromagnetic survey, hydrothermal, melt, mid-ocean ridge, mineralization, oceanic-crust, ramesses experiment, ridge, seismic, southwest-pacific, spreading ridge, structure, Valu Fa


In December 1995 we carried out a comprehensive controlled-source electromagnetic survey of the Valu Fa Ridge at 22 degrees 25'S in the Lau Basin. The Valu Fa Ridge is a back-arc spreading centre of intermediate spreading rate and is a site of extensive hydrothermal activity. Seismic studies have imaged a melt lens at an average depth of 3.2 km below the seafloor, surrounded by a zone of lowered seismic velocity, interpreted as a region of partial melt in the crust. The electromagnetic experiment was part of a multidisciplinary study which included wide-angle and reflection seismics, bathymetry and potential field measurements. Electromagnetic signals at frequencies between 0.25 and 40 Hz were transmitted from a horizontal electric dipole towed close to the seafloor and were recorded by an array of 11 sea-bottom receivers fit ranges of up to 20 km from the source. Over 80 hr of data, consisting of the magnitude of the horizontal electric field at the seafloor, were collected. These data have extremely low scatter compared to similar data from previous surveys. The data were interpreted using a combination of 1- and 2-D forward modelling and inversion. The vertical resistivity gradient in the upper crust at the Vain Fa Ridge is abnormally low, with resistivities of less than 10 Ohm m observed throughout layer 2 of the crust to a depth of 3 km. This is significantly more conductive at depth than the axis of the slow-spreading Reykjanes Ridge at 57 degrees 45'N, and the fast-spreading East Pacific Rise at 13 degreesN, where similar data sets have been collected in the past. Although the structure of layer 2 is well constrained by the electromagnetic data, its extremely low resistivity causes rapid attennuation of electromagnetic signals diffusing through it, and hence the data are not sensitive to the structure in layer 3, in particular the structure of the melt lens or surrounding low-velocity zone. The seismic velocity structure of the Valu Fa Ridge, determined from the coincident wide-angle seismic study, is similar to that observed at other mid-ocean ridges, with a steep seismic velocity gradient through layer 2 (although overall velocities are slightly lower). The seismic velocity anomaly calculated relative to an average off-axis structure is also small. This suggests that the very low resistivities observed at the axis are not caused by an upper crust of abnormally high porosity. However, hot and/or saline fluids permeating the crust can explain the low resistivities without affecting the seismic velocity. Since the conductive region extends unbroken from 3 km depth to the seafloor, it is probable that these fluids circulate to (or close to) the magma chamber itself.