Ocean floor structures with horizontal scales of 10 to a few hundred kilometers and vertical scales of 100 m or more generate sea surface gravity anomalies observable with satellite altimetry. Prior to 1990, altimeter data resolved only tectonic lineaments, some seamounts, and some aspects of mid-ocean ridge structure. New altimeter data available since mid-1995 resolve 10-km–scale structures over nearly all the world's oceans. These data are the basis of new global bathymetric maps and have been interpreted as exhibiting complexities in the sea floor spreading process including ridge jumps, propagating rifts, and variations in magma supply. This chapter reviews the satellite altimetry technique and its resolution of tectonic structures, gives examples of intriguing tectonic phenomena, and shows that structures as small as abyssal hills are partially resolved. A new result obtained here is that the amplitude of the fine-scale (10–80 km) roughness of old ocean floor is spreading-rate dependent in the same way that it is at mid-ocean ridges, suggesting that fine-scale tectonic fabric is generated nearly exclusively by ridge-axis processes.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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