Bathymetric, gravity, magnetic and backscattering strength data have been used to characterise the segmentation of an 800 km long portion of the ultraslow-spreading Southwest Indian Ridge (SWIR, full rate 14 mm/yr) between 49°15´E and 57°E. This analysis reveals that the segmentation defined by along-axis variations of depth and by occurrence of axial offsets does not systematically correspond to the segmentation determined by the along-axis variations of backscattering strength, mantle Bouguer anomaly (MBA) and amplitude of the central magnetic anomalies (CMA). At axial discontinuities with offsets larger than 15 km, thin crust and reduced volcanic production are suggested by the occurrence of MBA highs, almost non-existent CMA and 50% lower backscattering strength relative to the segment centres. By contrast, smaller non-transform discontinuities, with offsets smaller than 15 km, correspond to very weak variations or to no variation of the MBA, the CMA or the reflectivity of the seafloor, suggesting that there is little or no variation of volcanic production and crustal thickness associated with those small discontinuities. These small axial discontinuities bound low-relief bathymetric segments (500-700 m), corresponding to weak or no MBA lows (amplitude <11 mGal), and robust high-relief segments (>1000 m), corresponding to large MBA lows (amplitude >30 mGal). We suggest that the magma supply to these low-relief segments is controlled by near-surface processes such as melt migration and/or crustal plumbing from adjacent high-relief segments. Pronounced MBA lows at high-relief segments are thought to correspond to spreading cells where magma supply is focused in the mantle. These spreading cells are spaced by about 100 km along the SWIR axis. We suggest that the spacing of spreading cells on slow-spreading ridges is primarily controlled by the spreading rate with larger spacing between spreading cells on ultraslow-spreading ridges than on slow-spreading ridges.
Earth and planetary science letters