Models of stress at mid-ocean ridges and their offsets
This thesis aims to investigate the stresses at mid-ocean ridge offsets, and particularly at the particular class of offsets represented by oceanic microplates. Amongthese, the Easter microplate is one of the best surveyed. This thesis first studies the stress field associated with mid-ocean ridges and simple types of ridge offsets, and then uses the stress field observed at Easter to constrain the driving mechanism of microplates. Two-dimensional finite element modelling is used to predict the lithospheric stress indicators, which are then compared with observations. Extensional structures at high angles (> 35 ) to ridge trends are often observed at ridge-transform intersections and non-tranform offsets, but remained unexplained until now. This study proposes that the topographic loading created by the elevation of mid-ocean ridges relative to old seafloor is a source of ridge parallel tensile stresses, and shows they can be explained by the rotation of ridge parallel tensile stresses at locked offsets. The elasto-plastic rheology is used to investigate the evolution of normal faults near mid-ocean ridges. It is shown that variations in the lithospheric strength, caused entirely by variations in the brittle layer thickness, can account for the observed variations in fault character with spreading rate and along-axis position. Plasticity is shown to prevent the achievement of large fault throws in thin brittle layers. Consequently, it may be important at fast spreading ridges. A new dynamic model is proposed for Easter microplate. It mainly consists of: 1) driving forces along the East and West Rifts, resulting from the combination of a regional tensile stress with an increasing ridge strength towards rift tips, 2) mantle basal drag resisting the microplate rotation, and contributing with less than 20% to the total resisting torque, and 3) resisting forces along the northern and southern boundaries. To explain both the earthquake focal mechanism evidence and theexistence of compressional ridges in the Nazca plate, the boundary conditions alongthe northern boundary are required to change with time, from completely locked tolocked in the normal direction only. This study does not invalidate the microplate kinematic model proposed by Schouten et al. (1993), but shows that normal resisting forces along the northern and southern boundaries of Easter microplate must exist in order to explain the stress observations. Also, it suggests that ridge strength variations play an important role in the dyamics of mid-ocean ridge overlap regions.