Thermal segmentation of mid-ocean ridge-transform faults

Monica Wolfson-Schwehr, Margaret S. Boettcher, Mark D. Behn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Web of Science)


3-D finite element simulations are used to calculate thermal structures and mantle flow fields underlying mid-ocean ridge-transform faults (RTFs) composed of two fault segments separated by an orthogonal step over. Using fault lengths and slip rates, we derive an empirical scaling relation for the critical step over length LS, which marks the transition from predominantly horizontal to predominantly vertical mantle flow at the base of the lithosphere under a step over. Using the ratio of step over length (LS) , we define three degrees of segmentation: first-degree, corresponding to type I step overs ≥ 3); second-degree, corresponding to type II step overs (1 ≤ < 3); and third-degree, corresponding to type III step overs <1). In first-degree segmentation, thermal structures and mantle upwelling patterns under a step over are similar to those of mature ridges, where normal mid-ocean ridge basalts (MORBs) form. The seismogenic area under first-degree segmentation is characteristic of two, isolated faults. Second-degree segmentation creates pull-apart basins with subdued melt generation, and intratransform spreading centers with enriched MORBs. The seismogenic area of RTFs under second-degree segmentation is greater than that of two isolated faults, but less than that of an unsegmented RTF. Under third-degree segmentation, mantle flow is predominantly horizontal, resulting in little lithospheric thinning and little to no melt generation. The total seismogenic area under third-degree segmentation approaches that of an unsegmented RTF. Our scaling relations characterize the degree of segmentation due to step overs along transform faults and provide insight into RTF frictional processes, seismogenic behavior, and melt transport.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3405-3418
Number of pages14
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'Thermal segmentation of mid-ocean ridge-transform faults'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this