Magmatic channelization by reactive and shear-driven instabilities at mid-ocean ridges: a combined analysis

D W Rees Jones, H Zhang, R F Katz

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It is generally accepted that melt extraction from the mantle at mid-ocean ridges (MORs) is concentrated in narrow regions of elevated melt fraction called channels. Two feedback mechanisms have been proposed to explain why these channels grow by linear instability: shear flow of the partially molten mantle and reactive flow of the ascending magma. These two mechanisms have been studied extensively, in isolation from each other, through theory and laboratory experiments as well as field and geophysical observations. Here, we develop a consistent theory that accounts for both proposed mechanisms and allows us to weigh their relative contributions. We show that interaction of the two feedback mechanisms is insignificant and that the total linear growth rate of channels is well-approximated by summing their independent growth rates. Furthermore, we explain how their competition is governed by the orientation of channels with respect to gravity and mantle shear. By itself, analysis of the reaction-infiltration instability predicts the formation of tube-shaped channels. We show that with the addition of even a small amount of extension in the horizontal, the combined instability favours tabular channels, consistent with the observed morphology of dunite bodies in ophiolites. We apply the new theory to MORs by calculating the accumulated growth and rotation of channels along streamlines of the solid flow. We show that reactive flow is the dominant instability mechanism deep beneath the ridge axis, where the most unstable orientation of high-porosity channels is subvertical. Channels are then rotated by the solid flow away from the vertical. The contribution of the shear-driven instability is confined to the margins of the melting region. Within the limitations of our study, the shear-driven feedback does not appear to be responsible for significant melt focusing or for the shallowly dipping seismic anisotropy that has been obtained by seismic inversions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)582–609
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number1
Early online date26 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Permeability and porosity
  • Instability analysis
  • Mechanics, theory, and modelling
  • Mid-ocean ridge processes
  • Rheology: mantle


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