National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2008

Hydrothermal activity on the southern Mid-Atlantic Ridge: Tectonically- and volcanically-controlled venting at 4–5°S

German, C.R., S.A. Bennett, D.P. Connelly, A.J. Evans, B.J. Murton, L.M. Parson, R.D. Prien, E. Ramirez-Llodra, M. Jakuba, T.M. Shank, D.R. Yoerger, E.T. Baker, S.L. Walker, and K. Nakamura

Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 273(3–4), 332-344, doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2008.06.048 (2008)

We report results from an investigation of the geologic processes controlling hydrothermal activity along the previously-unstudied southern Mid-Atlantic Ridge (3–7°S). Our study employed the NOC (UK) deep-tow sidescan sonar instrument, TOBI, in concert with the WHOI (USA) autonomous underwater vehicle, ABE, to collect information concerning hydrothermal plume distributions in the water column co-registered with geologic investigations of the underlying seafloor. Two areas of high-temperature hydrothermal venting were identified. The first was situated in a non-transform discontinuity (NTD) between two adjacent secondorder ridge-segments near 4°2'S, distant from any neovolcanic activity. This geologic setting is very similar to that of the ultramafic-hosted and tectonically-controlled Rainbow vent-site on the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The second site was located at 4°48'S at the axial-summit centre of a second-order ridge-segment. There, high-temperature venting is hosted in an ~18 km2 area of young lava flows which in some cases are observed to have flowed over and engulfed pre-existing chemosynthetic vent-fauna. In both appearance and extent, these lava flows are directly reminiscent of those emplaced in Winter 2005.06 at the East Pacific Rise, 9°50'N and reference to global seismic catalogues reveals that a swarm of large (M 4.6–5.6) seismic events was centred on the 5°S segment over a ~24 h period in late June 2002, perhaps indicating the precise timing of this volcanic eruptive episode. Temperature measurements at one of the vents found directly adjacent to the fresh lava flows at 5°S MAR (Turtle Pits) have subsequently revealed vent-fluids that are actively phase separating under conditions very close to the Critical Point for seawater, at ~3000 m depth and 407°C: the hottest vent-fluids yet reported from anywhere along the global ridge crest.

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