National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2006

Evolution of a submarine magmatic-hydrothermal system: Brothers Volcano, Southern Kermadec Arc, New Zealand

de Ronde, C.E.J., M.D. Hannington, P. Stoffers, I.C. Wright, R.G. Ditchburn, A.G. Reyes, E.T. Baker, G.J. Massoth, J.E. Lupton, S.L. Walker, R.R. Greene, C.W.R. Soong, J. Ishibashi, G.T. Lebon, C.J. Bray, and J.A. Resing

Econ. Geol., 100(6), 1097–1133, doi: 10.2113/100.6.1097 (2005)

Brothers volcano, which is part of the active Kermadec arc, northeast of New Zealand, forms an elongate edifice 13 km long by 8 km across that strikes northwest-southeast. The volcano has a caldera with a basal diameter of ~3 km and a floor at 1,850 m below sea level, surrounded by 290- to 530-m-high walls. A volcanic cone of dacite rises 350 m from the caldera floor and partially coalesces with the southern caldera wall.

Three hydrothermal sites have been located: on the northwest caldera wall, on the southeast caldera wall, and on the dacite cone. Multiple hydrothermal plumes rise ~750 m through the water column upward from the caldera floor, originating from the northwest caldera walls and atop the cone, itself host to three separate vent fields (summit, upper flank, northeast flank). In 1999, the cone site had plumes with relatively high concentrations of gas with a ΔpH of -0.27 relative to seawater (proxy for CO2 + S gases), dissolved H2S up to 4,250 nM, high concentrations of particulate Cu (up to 3.4 nM), total dissolvable Fe (up to 4,720 nM), total dissolvable Mn (up to 260 nM) and Fe/Mn values of 4.4 to 18.2. By 2002, plumes from the summit vent field had much lower particulate Cu (0.3 nM), total dissolvable Fe (175 nM), and Fe/Mn values of 0.8 but similar pH (-0.22) and higher H2S (7,000 nM). The 1999 plume results are consistent with a magmatic fluid component with the concentration of Fe suggesting direct exsolution of a liquid brine, whereas the much lower concentrations of metals but higher overall gas contents in the 2002 plumes likely reflect subsea-floor phase separation. Plumes above the northwest caldera site are chemically distinct, and their compositions have not changed over the same 3-year interval. They have less CO2 (ΔpH of -0.09), no detectable H2S, total dissolved Fe of 955 nM, total dissolved Mn of 150 nM, and Fe/Mn of 6.4. An overall increase in 3He/4He values in the plumes from R/RA = 6.1 in 1999 to 7.2 in 2002 is further consistent with a magmatic pulse perturbing the system.

The northwest caldera site is host to at least two large areas (~600 m by at least 50 m) of chimneys and subcropping massive sulfide. One deposit is partially buried by sediment near the caldera rim at ~1,450 m, whereas the other crops out along narrow, fault-bounded ledges between ~1,600 and 1,650 m. Camera tows imaged active 1- to 2-m-high black smoker chimneys in the deeper zone together with numerous 1- to 5-m-high inactive spires, abundant sulfide talus, partially buried massive sulfides, and hydrothermally altered volcanic rocks. 210Pb/226Ra dating of one chimney gives an age of 27 ± 6 years; 226Ra/Ba dating of other mineralization indicates ages up to 1,200 years. Formation temperatures derived from Δ34S sulfate-sulfide mineral pairs are 245° to 295° for the northwest caldera site, 225° to 260°C for the southeast caldera and ~260° to 305°C for the cone. Fluid inclusion gas data suggest subsea-floor phase separation occurred at the northwest caldera site.

Alteration minerals identified include silicates, silica polymorphs, sulfates, sulfides, Fe and Mn oxide and/or oxyhydroxides, and native sulfur, which are consistent with precipitation at a range of temperatures from fluids of different compositions. An advanced argillic assemblage of illite + amorphous silica + natroalunite + pyrite + native S at the cone site, the occurrence of chalcocite + covellite + bornite + iss + chalcopyrite + pyrite in sulfide samples from the southeast caldera site, and veins of enargite in a rhyodacitic sample from the northwest caldera site are indicative of high-sulfidation conditions similar to those of subaerial magmatic-hydrothermal systems.

The northwest caldera vent site is a long-lived hydrothermal system that is today dominated by evolved seawater but has had episodic injections of magmatic fluid. The southeast caldera site represents the main upflow of a relatively well established magmatic-hydrothermal system on the sea floor where sulfide-rich chimneys are extant. The cone site is a nascent magmatic-hydrothermal system where crack zones localize upwelling acidic waters. Each of these different vent sites represents diverse parts of an evolving hydrothermal system, any one of which may be typical of submarine volcanic arcs.

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