A New Burst of Seafloor Mapping and Discovery Driven By Advances in Satellite Altimetry

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:00 PM
Dietmar Müller1, Kara J Matthews1 and David T Sandwell2, (1)University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia, (2)University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States
Radar altimetry measurements of the ocean surface topography from two satellites have recently been used to construct a new global marine gravity model that is twice as accurate as previous models. The model reveals previously invisible abyssal hill (AH) fabric in many parts of the ocean basins, placing valuable additional constraints on tectonic events reflected in changes in the orientation of linear AHs, and thus in spreading direction. AH fabric, if dated via marine magnetic anomalies, puts much tighter temporal constraints on changes in seafloor spreading directions than fracture zones, which, depending on their offset, often take many millions of years to adjust to major plate motion events. The new data also reveal previously unmapped microplates in the Pacific and Indian oceans. They preferentially form in spreading corridors where spreading rates were very high, reaching plate tectonic speed limits, or in response to plate reorganization stresses. The mapping of previously unknown or poorly mapped ridge propagation events during the Cretaceous Normal Superchron (CNS), leading to pseudofaults and extinct ridges, is relevant for interpreting marine magnetic anomaly sequences during the CNS in terms of magnetic field variability. The new grid provides breathtakingly detailed views of individual fault structures, previously only mapped via expensive seismic surveys, in the North Falkland Basin. Here narrow vertical gravity gradient highs and lows can be shown to correspond to seismically imaged horsts and grabens bounded by normal faults. The new gravity field allows us to create a detailed regional fault map outside of existing seismic coverage. The fault network that emerges illustrates that this eastern region of the Falkland Plateau is characterised by broadly distributed faulting, reflecting a wide rift that typically occurs in regions of higher than normal heat flow with relatively thick crust, where local crustal buoyancy effects dominate localising processes. In summary, the new gravity grid sheds light on many small-scale features in abyssal plains, along continental margins and on submerged continental plateaus, facilitating a new period of discovery in remote parts of the oceans, and leading to a revised tectonic fabric map of the seafloor.