The role of mantle melts in the transition from rifting to seafloor spreading offshore eastern North America

TitleThe role of mantle melts in the transition from rifting to seafloor spreading offshore eastern North America
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsShuck, BD, Van Avendonk, HJA, Bécel, A
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Date Publishednov
Keywordscontinent-ocean transition, continental rifting, eastern North American margin, mantle melting, oceanic crust, seismic tomography

The Eastern North American Margin (ENAM) formed in the early Jurassic (∼195 Ma) with the breakup of supercontinent Pangea. This rifting event was accompanied by volcanism along the continental shelf of the eastern United States, giving rise to the East Coast Magnetic Anomaly (ECMA). Numerical models show that magmatic diking can assist rifting by reducing the effective stress required to rupture the lithosphere. Therefore, magma-rich rifts can develop a rapid transition from continental breakup to seafloor spreading. Alternatively, the onset of seafloor spreading may be accompanied by a long period of persistent thermal weakening and erosion of the lithosphere. In this paper we present analyses of active-source wide-angle seismic data collected during the 2014 ENAM Community Seismic Experiment in an area that extends farther offshore than previous seismic surveys along the eastern U.S. Seaward of the ECMA lies a zone of thin oceanic crust with high compressional seismic velocity (up to 7.5 km/s in the lower crust), whereas thicker normal oceanic crust lies ∼200 km farther offshore along another prominent magnetic anomaly, the Blake Spur Magnetic Anomaly (BSMA). We reconcile our seismic images with a petrologic model to evaluate the mantle melting conditions during the late stages of continental breakup and early seafloor spreading in the Central Atlantic. We propose that the zone of thin crust between the ECMA and BSMA with high seismic velocity is best explained by the presence of a ∼15–20 km thick lithospheric lid at the time of early seafloor spreading, which prevented melting in the shallow mantle. Our analysis suggests that the volcanism that produced the nearshore ECMA did not lead to complete lithospheric breakup of the conjugate North American and African margins. Normal seafloor spreading began at the BSMA under a moderately high mantle potential temperature of ∼1395–1420°C, ∼25 million years after the initial formation of the volcanic margin. These results imply that stretching, thermal weakening, and rupture of the lithosphere may take millions of years, even in the presence of mantle melts.


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