Source of oceanic magnetic anomalies and the geomagnetic polarity time scale

Gee, Jeffrey S.; Kent, Dennis V.

Marine magnetic anomalies provide the framework for the geomagnetic polarity timescale for the Late Jurassic to Recent (since 160 Ma). Magnetostratigraphic records confirm that the polarity reversal sequence interpreted from magnetic anomalies is complete to a resolution of better than 30 ky. In addition to this record of polarity reversals, magnetic anomalies also appear to preserve information on geomagnetic intensity fluctuations. The correspondence of coherent near-bottom anomaly variations with independent estimates of field intensity provides strong evidence that geomagnetic intensity modulates the magnetization of the ocean crust. Indeed, many short wavelength anomaly variations in sea-surface magnetic profiles over fast-spreading ridges are likely attributable to geomagnetic intensity variations. Although longer-term geomagnetic field behavior may also be reflected in anomaly amplitudes, documenting such a signal requires a better understanding of time-dependent changes in the magnetic source (e.g., from low-temperature alteration) that may also affect magnetic anomalies. The extrusive layer, with an average remanence of ∼ 5 A m−1, is the largest contributor to magnetic anomalies. However, enhanced sampling of oceanic gabbros (average remanence ∼ 1 A m−1) and, to a lesser extent, dikes (average remanence ∼ 2 A m−1) reveals that these deeper (and thicker) layers likely generate anomalies comparable to those from the lavas. Lava accumulation at intermediate- and fast-spreading ridges typically occurs over a narrow (1–3 km) region and dike emplacement is even more narrowly confined, resulting in a relatively high fidelity record of geomagnetic field behavior. The slow cooling of the gabbroic layer, however, results in gently dipping polarity boundaries that significantly affect the skewness of the resulting anomalies, which is also a sensitive measure of net rotations of the source layer(s). The magnetizations of the dikes and gabbros are characterized by high stability and are not expected to significantly change with time, although there are insufficient data to confirm this. The lavas, however, typically show evidence of low-temperature alteration, which has been long regarded as a process that progressively reduces the magnetization (and degrades the geomagnetic signal) in the extrusive layer and reduces the amplitude of magnetic anomalies. Sufficient data have become available to examine this conventional wisdom. There is a substantial (∼ 4x) reduction in magnetization from on-axis samples to immediately off-axis drillsites (∼ 0.5 My), but little further change in half-dozen or so deep crustal sites to ∼ 160 Ma. High paleointensity that characterizes the last few thousand years may contribute significantly to the high on-axis magnetization. The task of evaluating changes in remanence of the extrusive layer is made more difficult by substantial cooling-rate-dependent changes in magnetic properties and the systematic variation in remanence with iron content (magnetic telechemistry). The commonly cited magnetic anomaly amplitude envelope is in fact not systematically observed – the Central Anomaly is elevated at slow-spreading ridges but is not as prominent at faster spreading rates. Nonetheless, magnetic anomaly amplitudes are consistent with magnetization change is poorly constrained. Direct determinations of the degree of low-temperature oxidation reveal the presence of highly oxidized titanomagnetite in samples less than 1 My old, suggesting a short (∼ 105 years) time constant though the effects of low-temperature oxidation are quite heterogeneous. While low-temperature oxidation does have some affect on lava magnetization and anomaly amplitudes, there is increasing evidence that marine magnetic anomalies are capable of recording a broad spectrum of geomagnetic field behavior, ranging from millennial-scale paleointensity variations to polarity reversals to apparent polar wander to, more speculatively, long-term changes in average field strength. Several emerging tools and approaches – autonomous vehicles, oriented samples, absolute paleointensity of near-ridge lavas, and measurements of the vector anomalous field – are therefore likely to significantly advance our understanding of the geomagnetic signal recorded in the oceanic crust, as well as our ability to utilize this information in addressing outstanding problems in crustal accretion processes.



Also Published In

Treatise on Geophysics, vol. 5: Geomagnetism

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Biology and Paleo Environment
Published Here
February 3, 2012