Mid-ocean ridges such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge are places in the Earth's system of tectonic plates where new crust forms and the plates move away from one another. Powered by magma rising and falling in the mantle, these undersea mountain ranges are formed by numerous eruptions of basalt lava along their length.
Because in almost all cases the eruptions take place deep below the ocean surface, mid-ocean ridges were only properly discovered in the 1950s. Scientists were surprised to find that hydrothermal vents along the ridges were home to life forms able to survive in complete darkness.
Image: A diver swims between the Eurasian and North American plates in Thingvellir lake, Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. Iceland is one place where a mid-ocean ridge can be seen on land and in shallow waters.(credit: Wild Wonders of Europe/Lundgre)
Iain Stewart explains how the Earth's crust is divided.
Dr Iain Stewart visits the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in Thingvellir, Iceland, a place where it's possible to see the divide between two of the Earth's plates on land.
Iceland's volcanism is linked to its position on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Professor Iain Stewart discusses Iceland's volcanoes, including the massive eruption that created the island of Surtsey in 1963. Iceland's position on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge makes it a volcanically active place.
A mid-ocean ridge is an underwater mountain system formed by plate tectonics. It consists of various mountains linked in chains, typically having a valley known as a rift running along its spine. This type of oceanic mountain ridge is characteristic of what is known as an oceanic spreading center, which is responsible for seafloor spreading. The production of new seafloor results from mantle upwelling in response to plate spreading; this isentropic upwelling solid mantle material eventually exceeds the solidus and melts. The buoyant melt rises as magma at a linear weakness in the oceanic crust, and emerges as lava, creating new crust upon cooling. A mid-ocean ridge demarcates the boundary between two tectonic plates, and consequently is termed a divergent plate boundary.