Abstract

Rifting near hotspots results in mantle melting to create thick mafic igneous crust at volcanic rifted margins (VRMs). This mafic crust is transitional between rifted continental crust with mafic intrusions landward and oceanic crust into which it grades seaward. Seismic velocities, crustal drilling, and exhumed margins show that the upper crust in these areas is composed of basaltic lava erupted in subaerial to submarine conditions intruded by downward increasing proportions of dikes and sparse gabbroic intrusions. The lower crust of these regions is not exposed but is inferred from seismic velocities (Vp > 6.5 km/sec) and petrological constraints to be gabbroic to ultramafic in composition. Limited access to crustal sections generated along VRMs have raised questions regarding the composition and structure of this transitional crust and how it evolves during the early stages of rifting and subsequent seafloor spreading. Active processes in Iceland provide a glimpse of subaerial spreading with the creation of a thick (40–25 km) mafic igneous crust that may be analogous to the transitional crust of VRMs. Segmented rift zones that propagate away from the Iceland hotspot, migrating transform fault zones, and rift-parallel strike-slip faults create a complex plate boundary zone in the upper, brittle crust. These structures may be decoupled from underlying lower crustal gabbroic rocks that are capable of along-axis flow that smooths-out crustal thickness variations. Similar processes may be characteristic of the early history of VRMs and volcanic hotspot ridges related to rifting and seafloor spreading proximal to hotspots.

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