Wetting oceanic lithosphere

Loss of watery fluids from downgoing subduction zones and their rise into the over-riding mantle wedge is the main reason why arc magmas form there by partial melting under high pH2O conditions.  It is usually assumed that all oceanic crust becomes thoroughly hydrated by circulation of seawater shortly after it forms at constructive plate margins.  However, many oceanic basalts from ophiolites or dredged from the ocean floor are very fresh.  It also seems that to explain the depth of fluid-influenced melting in some volcanic arcs, large amounts of water must be coming from the mantle part of the subducted slab.  That is more difficult to hydrate by sea-floor hydrothermal processes.  German and US geophysicists have found abundant evidence for faults oceanwards of where the Cocos Plate bends to descend below the Middle America Trench (Ranero, C.R. et al. 2003.  Bending-related faulting and mantle serpentinization at the Middle America Trench.  Nature, v. 425, p. 367-373).  The faults show up clearly on detailed bathymetric images as wrinkles on the ocean floor off Nicaragua, and high-resolution seismic reflection profiles show that they penetrate deep into the mantle part of the Cocos Plate.  Water can easily make its way down to form serpentinite from mantle peridotites just before the slab plunges down the subduction zone.

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