Water-rich sublithospheric melt channel in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Nature Geoscience, Volume 11, p.65–69 (2017)


The lithosphere–asthenosphere boundary is the most extensive boundary on Earth, separating the mobile plate above from the convecting mantle below, but its nature remains a matter of debate. Using an ultra-deep seismic reflection technique, here we show a systematic seismic image of two deep reflectors that we interpret as the upper and lower limits of the lithosphere–asthenosphere boundary beneath a 40–70-million-year-old oceanic lithosphere in the Atlantic Ocean. These two reflections correspond to 1,260 °C and 1,355 °C isotherms and bound a low-velocity channel, suggesting that the lithosphere–asthenosphere boundary is thermally controlled. We observe a clear age dependency of this sublithospheric channel: its depth increases with age from 72 km where it is 40-Myr-old to 88 km where it is 70-Myr-old, whereas its thickness decreases with age from 18 km to 12 km. We suggest that partial melting, facilitated by water, is the main mechanism responsible for the low-velocity channel. The required water concentration for melting increases with age; nevertheless, its corresponding total mass remains relatively constant, suggesting that most of the volatiles in the oceanic sublithospheric channel originate from a horizontal flux near the ridge axis.