Abstract

High-temperature (>300 °C) off-axis hydrothermal systems found along the slow-spreading Mid-Atlantic Ridge are apparently consistently located at outcropping fault zones. While preferential flow of hot fluids along highly permeable, fractured rocks seems intuitive, such efficient flow inevitably leads to the entrainment of cold ambient seawater. The temperature drop this should cause is difficult to reconcile with the observed high-temperature black smoker activity and formation of associated massive sulfide ore deposits. Here we combine newly acquired seismological data from the high-temperature, off-axis Logatchev 1 hydrothermal field (LHF1) with numerical modeling of hydrothermal flow to solve this apparent contradiction. The data show intense off-axis seismicity with focal mechanisms suggesting a fault zone dipping from LHF1 toward the ridge axis. Our simulations predict high-temperature venting at LHF1 only for a limited range of fault widths and permeability contrasts, expressed as the fault’s relative transmissibility (the product of the two parameters). The relative transmissibility must be sufficient to “capture” a rising hydrothermal plume and redirect it toward LHF1 but low enough to prevent extensive mixing with ambient cold fluids. Furthermore, the temperature drop associated with any high permeability zone in heterogeneous crust may explain why a significant part of hydrothermal discharge along slow-spreading ridges occurs at low temperatures.

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