Letter | Published:

The structure of oceanic core complexes controlled by the depth distribution of magma emplacement

Nature Geoscience volume 3, pages 491495 (2010) | Download Citation


At mid-ocean spreading centres, extension can be accommodated by slip on large, long-lived (1–2 Myr) detachment faults that expose large tracts of lower crustal gabbroic rocks and mantle peridotite. These structures are known as oceanic core complexes. The development of detachment faults is controlled by the rate at which magma is injected into the brittle lithosphere as intrusive dykes. Recent modelling studies suggested that oceanic core complexes form under low magma injection rates, when only 30–50% of total plate separation is accommodated by the injection of magma into the lithosphere1,2,3. Yet, paradoxically, field observations4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11 document oceanic core complexes that have formed under a spectrum of magma injection rates, from amagmatic to fully magmatic conditions. Here we present a numerical model of oceanic core complex formation that explicitly considers magma intrusion not only in the brittle lithospheric layer, as in earlier simulations1,2,3, but also in the underlying ductile asthenosphere. We find that the rate of magma intrusion into the brittle layer controls fault evolution, whereas the rate of intrusion below the brittle–ductile transition has no influence on fault development, but controls the volume of gabbro exhumed. Our findings suggest that oceanic core complexes can form under high magma intrusion rates if intrusion is accommodated mainly by the ductile asthenosphere, thus reconciling the disparity between prevailing models and field observations.

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Financial support was provided by National Science Foundation Grant (OCE-0548672) to M.D.B., a Mellon Independent Study Award to B.E.T. and by WHOI’s Deep Ocean Exploration Institute. The authors wish to thank J. Escartin, J. Lin, G. Ito and R. Buck for helpful discussions.

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    • Jean-Arthur Olive

    Present address: Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139 USA


  1. Département Terre-Atmosphère-Océan, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris 75005, France

    • Jean-Arthur Olive
  2. Department of Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA

    • Mark D. Behn
    •  & Brian E. Tucholke


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J-A.O. and M.D.B. carried out the modelling and B.E.T. advised on geological interpretations. J-A.O. took the lead in writing the manuscript; M.D.B. and B.E.T. provided comments and revisions.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Jean-Arthur Olive.

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