Gold colloids occur in black smoker fluids from the Niua South hydrothermal vent field, Lau Basin (South Pacific Ocean), confirming the long-standing hypothesis that gold may undergo colloidal transport in hydrothermal fluids. Six black smoker vents, varying in temperature from 250 °C to 325 °C, were sampled; the 325 °C vent was boiling at the time of sampling and the 250 °C fluids were diffusely venting. Native gold particles ranging from <50 nm to 2 μm were identified in 4 of the fluid samples and were also observed to precipitate on the sampler during collection from the boiling vent. Total gold concentrations (dissolved and particulate) in the fluid samples range from 1.6 to 5.4 nM in the high-temperature, focused flow vents. Although the gold concentrations in the focused flow fluids are relatively high, they are lower than potential solubilities prior to boiling and indicate that precipitation was boiling induced, with sulfide lost upon boiling to exsolution and metal sulfide formation. Gold concentrations reach 26.7 nM in the 250 °C diffuse flow sample, and abundant native gold particles were also found in the fluids and associated sulfide chimney and are interpreted to be a product of colloid accumulation and growth following initial precipitation upon boiling. These results indicate that colloid-driven precipitation as a result of boiling, the persistence of colloids after boiling, and the accumulation of colloids in diffuse flow fluids are important mechanisms for the enrichment of gold in seafloor hydrothermal systems.

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