A submersible study in the western Blanco fracture Zone, N.E. Pacific: Structure and evolution during the last 1.6 Ma

T. Juteau, D. Bideau, O. Dauteuil, G. Manac'h, D. D. Naidoo, P. Nehlig, H. Ondreas, M. A. Tivey, K. X. Whipple, J. R. Delaney

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33 Scopus citations


During July and August 1991, the French-American Blanconaute dive program used the French submersible Nautile to investigate the West Blanco Depression (WBD), a deep, elongate trough located at the intersection of the Blanco Transform Fault Zone with the southern Juan de Fuca Ridge (JdFR). Twenty dives were carried out along the north wall of the WBD, which exposes the upper oceanic crust over a 65 km distance, from the JdFR axis (to the west) to the oblique trace of an ancient propagator (to the east, crustal age around 2 Ma). Thirteen of these dives were precisely located within a 13 × 7 km zone of the north wall, covered by a high-resolution sonar mapping operation during the Blancotrough cruise in 1987. This series of geological traverses, plus 4 dives across the south wall of the WBD (one dive) and the adjacent Parks Plateau (3 dives), collected 242 rock samples. We report here the main results of the dive program and preliminary laboratory studies: 1. Transform-related tectonic activity has recently abandoned the southern margin of Parks Plateau, and is presently located inside the WBD area, mainly along its northern wall. The tectonic features observed are compatible with a right-lateral strike-slip system, with a NE-SW extensional component. 2. Three main lithological units are exposed along the north wall of the WBD. From top to bottom, they are: (1) a Volcanic Unit, forming a steep upper cliff, made of massive and pillow flows and basaltic dikes, with an estimated average thickness of 800 m; (2) a less steep Transition Zone, about 150 to 400 m thick, largely masked by rubble but exposing both diabase outcrops and pillow flows; and (3) a massive Diabase Unit, exposed over 700-800 m, with a dike complex structure visible from place to place, and cut by a net of hydrothermal veins. Deep crustal rocks such as gabbros were not observed. 3. Spectacular mass-wasting features are visible all along the north wall of the WBD. About 60% of the face of the wall is masked by talus cones, rubble, rock avalanche deposits and slide blocks. Three main landslides, of approximately one km3 in volume each, were tentatively identified. One of them was mapped in detail and consists of an approximately 300 m thick (0.85 km3), coherent slide block detached from a zone where intense hydrothermal alteration and faulting have obviously weakened the bedrock, that is in places entirely altered to blue clays. 4. The basaltic lavas of the WBD north wall show a remarkable evolution with time, from east to west. Around the tip of the ancient propagator, they are restricted to primitive, olivine-rich picritic basalts. Proceeding westward, they exhibit a wide range of differentiation, including highly fractionated, FeTi-rich ferrobasalts at about 35-45 km from the JdFR axis. When approaching the JdFR axis, the FeTi enrichment decreases gradually, and the ferrobasalts evolve towards slightly differentiated MORB-type basalts, typical of the southern JdFR. This magmatic evolution marks the transition from the end of a propagating rift regime to a steady-state accretion regime. 5. The WBD north wall also permits the study of weathering and hydrothermal alteration processes and their evolution in space and time. Vertically, the alteration products evolve from oceanic weathering and zeolite facies (Volcanic Unit) to the greenschist facies (Transition Zone and Diabase Unit). Horizontally, the evolution with time is mainly a general hydration of the crust that is, however, very irregularly distributed. 6. Several vertical magnetic traverses along the north wall of the WBD, using a bottom magnetometer attached to the basket of the submersible, have shown a sharp 5000 to 7000 nT positive anomaly at about 3500 m depth. This anomaly corresponds exactly to the first appearance of extrusive pillow-lava outcrops, and confirms the dramatic decrease in magnetic anomaly amplitude below that depth, detected during the Blancotrough cruise in 1987. The vertical magnetic profiles thus appear to have imaged the base of the magnetic source layer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)399-430
Number of pages32
JournalMarine Geophysical Researches
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Crustal magnetization
  • Juan de Fuca Ridge
  • oceanic crust
  • propagating rift
  • submarine mass-wasting
  • transform zone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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