The Rainbow hydrothermal field (36°14′N) and the Saldanha seamount (36°34′N), in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR), are tectonic exposures of serpentinized upper mantle peridotites, both associated with significant hydrothermal activity.
On the basis of detailed mineralogical and geochemical characterization of serpentinites from both sites, several serpentinization-related issues are discussed in the present work. As expected in oceanic environments, most of the sampled rocks are lizardite-chrysotile serpentinites exhibiting a variety of pseudomorphic through non-pseudomorphic textures, such textural evolution probably being related to changing water/rock ratios during this retrograde process. Oxygen isotope temperatures indicate that the serpentinization took place at 300–200 °C; on the other hand, isotopic data suggest that replacement of early pseudomorphic lizardite by lizardite ± chrysotile non-pseudomorphic textures requires that temperatures and/or water/rock ratios are high enough to promote the necessary dissolution–recrystallization processes. Mass-balance calculations for olivine-serpentine and orthopyroxene-serpentine pairs provided a basis for establishing serpentinization reactions likely to have produced the present rocks. Moreover, these calculations also showed that, notwithstanding some noticeable loss of MgO from olivine and of SiO2 from orthopyroxene, serpentinization of both minerals implies volume increases on the order of 26–27%, therefore potentially promoting the overall expansion of the rock. The geochemical and isotopic features of the studied rocks indicate that unmodified seawater was responsible for the serpentinization of the MAR peridotites. However, the mineralogy and REE patterns of some of these serpentinites indicate occasional subsequent interaction of the serpentinized rocks with seawater at much lower temperatures (seafloor alteration, characterized by carbonate deposition and negative Ce anomalies), or with high-temperature ore-forming hydrothermal fluids (ore-forming alteration, characterized by sulfide precipitation and steep positive Eu anomalies).