Along-axis variations in the MARK area


  • J.A. Karson


During May and June 1986, scientists aboard the R/V Atlantis 11 carried out an investigation of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR) axis just south of the Kane Fracture Zone at 24°N (MARK Area). This was the first nearbottom study of the MAR median valley outside of a transform fault intersection since the French-American Mid-Ocean Undersea Study (FAMOUS) and AMAR investigations of the 1970s. At the MARK Area, manned submersible dives with the DSRV ALVIN, deep-towed Angus camera runs, dredges, hydrocasts, and Sea Beam surveys were concentrated in four east-west transects across the rift valley at distances of 25, 40, 60, and 75 km south of the Kane ridge-transform intersection. The goal of the study was to determine along-axis variations in style of seafloor spreading, and the results document that radical variations do indeed exist over lateral distances of less than 20 km. The northernmost transect (23°22′N) is only 25 km south of the Kane Transform and has an asymmetric form, with the west wall of the median valley being steeper and higher than the east wall. The axial region of the valley is dominated by a narrow, 600-m-high volcanic constructional ridge that extends north all the way to the transform. This ridge marks the neovolcanic zone and is the site of active black smoker hydrothermal vents and associated mineral deposits and biological communities. The vents are very similar to those of the East Pacific Rise and indicate the presence of a magma chamber at less than 2 km depth. Just 15 km to the south (23°15′N), there is no well-defined median valley at all. At this point the spreading center has no recognizable neovolcanic zone, but the seafloor is pervasively fissured and faulted over a width of at least 15 km. Asymmetric fault blocks up to 400 m high occur near the axial trace of the rift. In both of these two transects, serpentinized peridotites were found to crop out extensively on the west median valley wall.