loading page

The effect of brittle-ductile weakening on the formation of tectonic patterns at mid-ocean ridges
  • Mingqi Liu,
  • Antoine Rozel,
  • Taras V. Gerya
Mingqi Liu
ETH Zurich

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

Author Profile
Antoine Rozel
ETH Z├╝rich
Author Profile
Taras V. Gerya
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH-Zurich)
Author Profile


One of the most prominent plate tectonic processes is seafloor spreading. But its formation processes are poorly understood. In this study, we thoroughly address how the brittle-ductile weakening process affects the formation and development of tectonic patterns at spreading centers using 3D magmatic-thermomechanical numerical models. Grain size evolution and brittle/plastic strain weakening are fully coupled into the model. A spectrum of tectonic patterns, from asymmetric long-lived detachment faults in rolling-hinge mode, short-lived detachment faults in flip-flop mode, to symmetric conjugate faults in flip-flop mode are documented in our models. Systematic numerical results indicate that fault strength reduction and axial brittle layer thickness are two pivotal factors in controlling the faulting patterns and spreading modes. Strain weakening induced by localized hydrothermal alteration can lead to the variation of the fault strength reduction. Strong strain weakening with large fault strength reduction results in very asymmetric detachment faults developing in rolling-hinge mode, while weak strain weakening leads to small fault strength reduction, forming conjugate faults. Moreover, the thermal structure beneath the ridge is influenced by spreading rates, hydrothermal circulation, and mantle potential temperature, which in turn controls the thickness of the axial brittle layer and results in variation in tectonic patterns. Further, in order to test a damage mechanism with a physical basis, we investigate grain size reduction at the root of detachment faults. We found that its effect in the formation of detachment faults appears to play a subordinate role compared to brittle/plastic strain weakening of faults.