National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2023

Two decades of monitoring hydrothermal plumes at the Brothers Submarine Volcano, Kermadec Arc, New Zealand

Walker, S.L., and C.E.J. de Ronde

Econ. Geol., doi: 10.5382/econgeo.4998, Published online; view open access at Geoscience World (external link) (2023)

Brothers volcano is arguably the most well-studied submarine arc volcano on Earth. Between 1996, when massive sulfides were first recovered by dredging, and 2018, when International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 376 recovered cores from as deep as 453 m below the sea floor at two chemically distinct hydrothermal upflow zones, over 60 conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) vertical casts and tow-yo operations mapped hydrothermal plumes over and around the edifice by employing hydrothermal tracer-specific sensors. These surveys started in 1999 and were completed during nine separate expeditions at one- to three-year intervals, except for a six-year gap between 2011 and 2017. Hydrothermal plume distributions over this two-decade period show variability in the intensity and vertical rise height of plumes from the four main vent fields (Upper Cone, Lower Cone, NW Caldera, and Upper Caldera, with the latter not discovered until 2017). Upper Cone plumes were more intense than all other sites in 1999, 2002, 2007, and 2009, then significantly diminished from 2011 to 2018. The Lower Cone plume was the most intense in 2004, then the NW Caldera site became the dominant source of hydrothermal particles from 2011 to 2018. Despite the gap of six years between 2011 and 2017, hydrothermal output appears to have increased within the caldera sometime after the 2009 survey while simultaneously decreasing in intensity at the cone sites. This supports other evidence of linkages between the cone and caldera sites in the deep hydrothermal circulation system, and may be related to the predicted deepening of hydrothermal circulation, infiltration of seawater to facilitate “mining” of magmatic brines, and modulation of subseafloor mineralization processes associated with a modeled, pulsed injection of magmatic gasses. The surveys also revealed ways in which the highly variable regional hydrographic environment impacts the flux of hydrothermal products to the surrounding ocean. Plumes from sources located above the caldera rim disperse hydrothermal components without hindrance, but particles and heat from sources within the caldera become trapped and are dispersed episodically by caldera-flushing events. While on site for 18 days in 2018, repeat CTD casts into the deepest part of the caldera, which was isolated from the surrounding ocean, showed a progressive increase in temperature, representing a net heat flux of 79 MW from conductive and advective sources deeper than 1,570 m.

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