Abstract

Fault zones in the ocean crust are commonly hypothesized to act as high-permeability conduits that focus fluid flow in oceanic hydrothermal systems. However, there has been little direct study of faults in crust formed at fast-spreading ridges. Here we describe the geology and geochemistry of an ∼40-m-wide fault zone within the uppermost sheeted dike complex exposed at Pito Deep (northeastern Easter microplate). Titanium in quartz thermometry gives temperatures of 392 ± 33 °C for quartz precipitation, indicating that this fault zone focused upwelling fluids at temperatures similar to those of black-smoker vent fluids. Correlated enrichment in 87Sr/86Sr and MgO in fault breccias, along with 87Sr/86Sr ratios higher than in average vent fluids, provide evidence for mixing between high-temperature upwelling fluids and a seawater-like fluid within the fault zone. Large high-temperature fluid fluxes are required to maintain high temperatures during mixing. If this fault zone is representative of upflow zones beneath hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise, then it is possible that vent fluids evolve thermally and chemically during their ascent and may not record the precise conditions at the base of the hydrothermal system.

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