The Process of Formation of Ocean Crust

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Science  08 Apr 1983:
Vol. 220, Issue 4593, pp. 151-157
DOI: 10.1126/science.220.4593.151


Ocean crust is the outermost layer of earth under the oceans. It is separated from the underlying mantle by a seismic transition zone called the Moho. A widely held view is that the Moho represents a petrologic change from basaltic-type rocks to a mantle composed mostly of olivine and pyroxene. According to this view, crust is formed by a steady segregation of basaltic melt, derived from partial melting of the mantle, into a crustal magma chamber wherein cooling and crystallization bring about steady-state accretion to the continuously spreading plates. There is sufficient disagreement between the predictions of this hypothesis and marine geophysical data to cause one to doubt the validity of this formation process. At least two other processes are more compatible with the geophysical data. In one, the crust is formed from the episodic injection of basaltic dikes from a mantle reservoir and the Moho is a primary petrologic boundary. In the other, the crust is treated as a mechanical boundary layer in which thermal contraction results in cracking; by comparison, in the mantle thermal contraction is accommodated by flow. The upper part of the crust is formed from episodic extrusion and intrusion of basaltic melt. The lower crust is formed by rapid hydrothermal alteration of mantle that may be continuously or episodically injected by viscous flow at temperatures below the melting temperature.