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The propagation of small-offset volcanic spreading-centre segments along mid-ocean ridge crests may reflect absolute motion of the plate boundary relative to the underlying mesospheric frame. Such a relationship could be caused by a purely vertical flow of the mantle under spreading centres and would have value in constraining past plate motions from non-transform trends generated during along-ridge propagation and in linking the major-element variability of oceanic crust and upper mantle to the bulk composition and temperatures of mantle ascending under mid-ocean ridges. ?? 1987 Nature Publishing Group.