Mid-ocean ridges are geologically active, with new magma constantly emerging onto the ocean floor and into the crust at and near rifts along the ridge axes. The crystallized magma forms new crust of basalt (known as MORB for Mid-Ocean Ridge Basalt) and gabbro.

The rocks making up the crust below the sea floor are youngest at the axis of the ridge and age with increasing distance from that axis. New magma of basalt composition emerges at and near the axis because of decompression melting in the underlying Earth's mantle.[2]

The oceanic crust is made up of rocks much younger than the Earth itself: most oceanic crust in the ocean basins is less than 200 million years old. The crust is in a constant state of "renewal" at the ocean ridges. Moving away from the mid-ocean ridge, ocean depth progressively increases; the greatest depths are in ocean trenches. As the oceanic crust moves away from the ridge axis, the peridotite in the underlying mantle cools and becomes more rigid. The crust and the relatively rigid peridotite below it make up the oceanic lithosphere.

Slow spreading ridges like the Mid-Atlantic Ridge generally have large, wide rift valleys, sometimes as big as 10-20 km wide and very rugged terrain at the ridge crest that can have relief of up to a thousand meters (3,128 feet).

[edit] Formation processes

There are two processes, ridge-push and slab-pull, thought to be responsible for the spreading seen at mid-ocean ridges, and there is some uncertainty as to which is dominant. Ridge-push occurs when the weight of the ridge pushes the rest of the tectonic plate away from the ridge, often towards a subduction zone. At the subduction zone, "slab-pull" comes into effect. This is simply the weight of the tectonic plate being subducted (pulled) below the overlying plate dragging the rest of the plate along behind it.

The other process proposed to contribute to the formation of new oceanic crust at mid-ocean ridges is the "mantle conveyor" (see image). However, there have been some studies which have shown that the upper mantle (asthenosphere) is too plastic (flexible) to generate enough friction to pull the tectonic plate along. Moreover, unlike in the image above, mantle upwelling that causes magma to form beneath the ocean ridges appears to involve only its upper 400 km (250 mi), as deduced from seismic tomography and from studies of the seismic discontinuity at about 400 kilometers. The relatively shallow depths from which the upwelling mantle rises below ridges are more consistent with the "slab-pull" process. On the other hand, some of the world's largest tectonic plates such as the North American Plate are in motion, yet are nowhere being subducted.

The rate at which the mid-ocean ridge creates new material is known as the spreading rate, and is generally measured in mm/yr. The common subdivisions of spreading rate are fast, medium and slow, whose values are generally >100 mm/yr, between 100 and 55 mm/yr and 55 to 20 mm/yr, respectively for full rates. The spreading rate of the north Atlantic Ocean is ~ 25 mm/yr, while in the Pacific region, it is 80–120 mm/yr. Ridges that spread at rates <20 mm/yr are referred to as ultraslow spreading ridges (e.g., the Gakkel ridge in the Arctic Ocean and the Southwest Indian Ridge) and they provide a much different perspective on crustal formation than their faster spreading brethren.

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