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Evolution and properties of young oceanic crust: constraints from Poisson's ratio

Funnell, M.J. and Robinson, A.H. and Hobbs, R.W. and Peirce, C. (2021) 'Evolution and properties of young oceanic crust: constraints from Poisson's ratio.', Geophysical journal international., 225 (3). pp. 1874-1896.


The seismic velocity of the oceanic crust is a function of its physical properties that include its lithology, degree of alteration, and porosity. Variations in these properties are particularly significant in young crust, but also occur with age as it evolves through hydrothermal circulation and is progressively covered with sediment. While such variation may be investigated through P-wave velocity alone, joint analysis with S-wave velocity allows the determination of Poisson’s ratio, which provides a more robust insight into the nature of change in these properties. Here we describe the independent modelling of P- and S-wave seismic datasets, acquired along an ~330 km-long profile traversing new to ~8 Myr-old oceanic crust formed at the intermediate-spreading Costa Rica Rift (CRR). Despite S-wave data coverage being almost four-times lower than that of the P-wave dataset, both velocity models demonstrate correlations in local variability and a long-wavelength increase in velocity with distance, and thus age, from the ridge axis of up to 0.8 and 0.6 km s-1, respectively. Using the Vp and Vs models to calculate Poisson’s ratio (s), it reveals a typical structure for young oceanic crust, with generally high values in the uppermost crust that decrease to a minimum of 0.24 by 1.0-1.5km sub-basement, before increasing again throughout the lower crust. The observed upper crustal decrease in s most likely results from sealing of fractures, which is supported by observations of a significant decrease in porosity with depth (from ~15 to <2%) through the dyke sequence in Ocean Drilling Program borehole 504B. High Poisson’s ratio (>0.31) is observed throughout the crust of the north flank of the CRR axis and, whilst this falls within the ‘serpentinite’ classification of lithological proxies, morphological evidence of pervasive surface magmatism and limited tectonism suggests, instead, that the cause is porosity in the form of pervasive fracturing and, thus, that this is the dominant control on seismic velocity in the newly formed CRR crust. South of the CRR, the values of Poisson’s ratio are representative of more typical oceanic crust, and decrease with increasing distance from the spreading centre, most likely as a result of mineralisation and increased fracture infill. This is supported by borehole observations and modelled 3-D seismic anisotropy. Crustal segments formed during periods of particularly low half-spreading rate (<35 mm yr-1) demonstrate high Poisson’s ratio relative to the background, indicating the likely retention of increased porosity and fracturing associated with the greater degrees of tectonism at the time of their formation. Across the south flank of the CRR, we find that the average Poisson’s ratio in the upper 1 km of the crust decreases with age by ~0.0084 Myr1 prior to the thermal sealing of the crust, suggesting that, to at least ~7 Myr, advective hydrothermal processes dominate early CRR-generated oceanic crustal evolution, consistent with heat flow measurements.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date accepted:09 February 2021
Date deposited:10 February 2021
Date of first online publication:13 February 2021
Date first made open access:10 February 2021

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