National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1993

A method for quantitatively estimating diffuse and discrete hydrothermal discharge

Baker, E.T., G.J. Massoth, S.L. Walker, and R.W. Embley

Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 118(1–4), 235–249, doi: 10.1016/0012-821X(93)90170-E (1993)

Submarine hydrothermal fluids discharge as undiluted, high-temperature jets and as diffuse,highly diluted, low-temperature percolation. Estimates of the relative contribution of each discharge type, which are important for the accurate determination of local and global hydrothermal budgets, are difficult to obtain directly. In this paper we describe a new method of using measurements of hydrothermal tracers such as Fe/Mn, Fe/heat, and Mn/heat in high- temperature fluids, low-temperature fluids, and the neutrally buoyant plume to deduce the relative contribution of each discharge type. We sampled vent fluids from the north Cleft vent field on the Juan de Fuca Ridge in 1988, 1989 and 1991, and plume samples every year from 1986 to 1991. The tracers were, on average, 3 to 90 times greater in high-temperature than in low-temperature fluids, with plume values intermediate. A mixing model calculates that high-temperature fluids contribute only ~3% of the fluid mass flux but >90% of the hydrothermal Fe and >60% of the hydrothermal Mn to the overlying plume. Three years of extensive camera-CTD sled tows through the vent field show that diffuse venting is restricted to a narrow fissure zone extending for 18 km along the axial strike. Linear plume theory applied to the temperature plumes detected when the sled crossed this zone yields a maximum likelihood estimate for the diffuse heat flux of 8.9 × 104 W/m, for a total flux of 534 MW, considering that diffuse venting is active along only one-third of the fissure system. For mean low- and high- temperature discharge of 25°C and 319°C, respectively, the discrete heat flux must be 266 MW to satisfy the mass flux partitioning. If the north Cleft vent field is globally representative, the assumption that high-temperature discharge dominates the mass flux in axial vent fields leads to an overestimation of the flux of many non-conservative hydrothermal species by about an order of magnitude.

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