On the basis of heat-flow measurements, seismic mapping, and sediment pore-water analysis, we demonstrate widespread and efficient ventilation of the 18–22 Ma oceanic crust of the northeast equatorial Pacific Ocean. Recharge and discharge appear to be associated with basement outcrops, including seamounts and north-south–trending faults, along which sediment cover thins out and volcanic rocks are exposed. Low-temperature hydrothermal circulation through the volcanic crust leads to the reduction of heat flow through overlying sediments, with measured heat-flow values that are well below those expected from conductive cooling curves for lithosphere of this age. Typically, dissolved pore-water oxygen decreases from the sediment surface downward, reaching minimum values at mid-depth and rising again in the lower part of the cores investigated, clearly indicating oxygen-rich seawater circulation through the oceanic crust underneath the sediments. If the residence time of the circulating fluids in the upper crust is short or the fluid flux is large, oxic conditions may be preserved, and oxygen can diffuse upwards into the sediments. This process, leading to widespread oxic conditions in the near-basement sediments, may cause the oxidation of residual reduced material stored in the deeper sediments, resulting in downward fluxes of the reaction products into the basement and from there back into the oceans. Considering the widespread existence of this type of off-axis ventilation, the net effect of the resulting return flow of reaction products on biogeochemical cycles and element fluxes (e.g., carbon and nitrogen) may be very large.

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