Rate of Ocean Crust Production


Plume heads can become quite large as the ascend to the surface, and diameters of 500 - 1000 km have been suggested.

The question arises: how often are these plumes released? And which discontinuity do they come from? Larson (1991a) showed that there was correlation between the rate of ocean crust production and the magnetic reversal time scale:

Mantle plume production and the magnetic reversal time scale

This shows that the mafic crust production rate was at a maximum during the Cretaceous magnetic quiet period, between 125 80Ma. This leads to 2 important conclusions. First, correlation can only occur if in fact the plume originated at the core-mantle boundary (D" layer), because it is convection in the Earth's core that is responsible for the magnetic field, and hence release of a major plume may have upset core convection (see Larson & Olsen, 1991 for details). Second, this excess crust production could be accounted for almost entirely by that represented by ocean plateaus. These ocean plateaus are regions where the ocean crust is anomalously thick. This reflects the fact that if the energetic mantle plumes rise up beneath the mid-ocean ridges, then all the excess heat is converted into basic magma, and so the ocean crust may be over 15 km thick, compared with ca. 6 km of normal ocean crust. This has two further effects. One is that the plateau may become land, like Iceland, instead of being submerged 2 to 6 km beneath the oceans. A consequence is that the ocean water displaced (sea level rise) then floods the low-lying continental margins, so that chalk is deposited in abundance in the shallow warm seas (see Larson, 1991b).

The main body of ocean plateaus are in the Western Pacific (Ontong Java; Manihiki Rise; Hess Rise, etc.) are all about 120 my old, which corresponds with the start of the Cretaceous magnetic quiet period. Note that these are only one half of the plateaus the other half (that formed over the other side of the mid-ocean ridge) may have been subducted beneath South America. A second phase of plume activity occurred at ca. 87 Ma, and corresponds with the end of the magnetic quiet period. Ths biggest plume here came through at the Galapagos hotspot in the eastern Pacific, and bits of it are found scattered around the Caribbean (see below). Note that the Iceland plume started at 60 Ma. Now this may indicate that large plumes are perhaps more frequent than had been thought. Could they occur far back in time? Is their release periodic or cyclic, or infrequent? Do they get more common as we go back in time? How could we recognise them? They do represent a big pulse of energy transferred from the outer core to the Earth's surface, so they should have associated features. For instance, the large phase of diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes occurs around 120Ma, and the phase of global warming occurred then (see Larson, 1991b).