Grain-Size Dynamics Beneath Mid-Ocean Ridges: Implications for Permeability and Melt Extraction

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Andrew James Turner, University of Oxford, Oxford, 0X1, United Kingdom, Richard F Katz, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom and Mark D Behn, Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst, Woods Hole, MA, United States
The permeability structure of the sub-ridge mantle plays an important role in how melt is focused and extracted at mid-ocean ridges. Permeability is controlled by porosity and the grain size of the solid mantle matrix, which is in turn controlled by the deformation conditions. To date, models of grain size evolution and mantle deformation have not been coupled to determine the influence of spatial variations in grain-size on the permeability structure at mid-ocean ridges. Rather, current models typically assume a constant grain size for the whole domain [1]. Here, we use 2-D numerical models to evaluate the influence of grain-size variability on the permeability structure beneath a mid-ocean ridge and use these results to speculate on the consequences for melt focusing and extraction.

We construct a two-dimensional, single phase model for the steady-state grain size beneath a mid-ocean ridge. The model employs a composite rheology of diffusion creep, dislocation creep, dislocation accommodated grain boundary sliding, and a brittle stress limiter. Grain size is calculated using the "wattmeter" model of Austin and Evans [2]. We investigate the sensitivity of the model to global variations in grain growth exponent, potential temperature, spreading-rate, and grain boundary sliding parameters [3,4]. Our model predicts that permeability varies by two orders of magnitude due to the spatial variability of grain size within the expected melt region of a mid-ocean ridge. The predicted permeability structure suggests grain size may promote focusing of melt towards the ridge axis. Furthermore, the calculated grain size structure should focus melt from a greater depth than models that exclude grain-size variability.

Future work will involve evaluating this hypothesis by implementing grain-size dynamics within a two-phase mid-ocean ridge model. The developments of such a model will be discussed.


[1] R. F. Katz, Journal of Petrology, volume 49, issue 12, page 2099, 2008.

[2] N. J. Austin and B. Evans, Geology, 35:354, 2007.

[3] G. Hirth and D. Kohlstedt, In Inside the Subduction Factory, volume 138 of AGU Geophysical Monograph, 2003.

[4] L. N. Hansen et al., JGR (Solid Earth), 116:B08201, 2011.