A segment of the inner rift valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was investigated in detail from the American submersible Alvin. Fifteen traverses were made across the floor and up the first major fault scarps in the valley walls. The asymmetric morphology of the inner floor is found to be the primary result of volcanic activity modified by tectonic activity. Analysis of the tectonic features revealed that the rift is evolving within a single stress field that has its least principal strain axis (the compressional axis) aligned with the valley axis of N20°E. This is in contrast to the direction normal to plate divergence (N0°E). The tectonic elements in the inner floor are primarily vertically dipping tension fractures, whereas the fault scarps of the flanking walls are closer to a 60° dip and reflect a component of downdip shear. The information base obtained from Alvin was broadened with information collected in the area with more conventional techniques.
Through an analysis of this information, primarily the topography, it was possible to extrapolate the detailed observations obtained from the submersible to intervening areas to produce a comprehensive geological interpretation of the study area. An evolutionary model was developed which suggests that the inner rift is a product of axial volcanic activity. Shortly after formation, the original volcanic edifice is modified by vertical collapse, which leads to a reduction of the bottom relief. This process is reversed in the outer portions of the valley as uplift begins. Tensional extension changes into vertical shear as the volcanic blocks are incorporated into the walls and elevated. During the various stages of uplift, readjustment takes place on the terraces, which results in the preservation of the original volcanoes as recognizable units. This model, which spans 180,000 yr of inferred time, is examined in detail in an attempt to identify its weaknesses as well as to delineate the specific factual constraints upon which it is built. Alternate interpretations are proposed and tested in a similar fashion; the result is the identification of key problems that need to be solved.