Abstract

Hot springs in active geothermal areas such as Yellowstone National Park, the Geysers geothermal field in California, and the Taupo volcanic zone in New Zealand are notably enriched in the trace metals Au, Ag, As, Sb, and Hg. Such near-surface hot springs have formed many of the world's important deposits of gold and silver and some of the largest deposits of mercury. The majority of these are associated with continental geothermal systems in subaerial environments. Here we report the discovery of active mercury-depositing hot springs in a submarine setting, at nearly 200 m water depth, within the offshore extension of the Taupo volcanic zone of New Zealand. These vents contain the first documented occurrence of elemental mercury on the sea floor and provide an important link between offshore hydrothermal activity and mercury-depositing geothermal systems on land. The discovery has implications for mercury transport in sea-floor hydrothermal systems and underscores the importance of submarine volcanic and geothermal activity as a source of mercury in the oceans.

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