The nature of subsidence near the ridge crest of the intermediate and fast spreading mid-ocean ridges of the Indian and Pacific Oceans is investigated using surface-ship bathymetry and magnetics profiles. The ridge can be divided into discrete sections, apparently bounded by distinct structural features such as major fracture zones, in which bathymetry plotted against crustal age forms a well-defined envelope with a width roughly the amplitude of the local bathymetry. The averaged bathymetry in all of the regions studied follows closely a square root of age subsidence curve which in most regions has a subsidence coefficient, C1, in the range of 340–390 m Myr−1/2. The best fitting subsidence curve, however, never reproduces the amplitude of the axial topographic high.
The most notable region displaying unusual behaviour is the East Pacific Rise between 9°S and 22°S. In this region, the western flank of the ridge is subsiding at 200–225 m Myr−1/2 while the eastern flank is subsiding at ‘normal’ rates of 350–400 m Myr−1/2. Other anomalous areas include the region between the Easter Island hot spot and the Chile Rise triple junction in which the ridge crest is shallow and which is subsiding at rates of about 290 m Myr−1/2, and the region east of the Australia-Antarctic Discordance in which the northern flank is subsiding at 440 m Myr−1/2. This area may also be subsiding asymmetrically although there is not much data from the southern flank.
The asymmetric subsidence in the 9°S-22°S region of the East Pacific Rise begins immediately at the ridge crest and the low subsidence rates on the west flank continue to at least 12 Myr old crust. Oligocene-aged crust on the western flank is subsiding at more normal rates, but is 500 m shallow with respect both to the world-wide average and to the conjugate crust on the eastern flank. The simplest model to explain these observations is that the western flank is underlain by a hotter mantle, perhaps as the result of upwelling resulting from the large-scale return circulation from the trenches. Depending on the depth of compensation, the observed asymmetry could result from a lateral temperature gradient of 0.05–0.10°C km−1 and a total lateral temperature variation of under 100°C.