Six hydrothermal vent sites and associated benthic communities were located in the axial valley of the southern Juan de Fuca Ridge using transponder-navigated bottom photography. The hydrothermal deposits form ledges and shallow mounds within a central zone characterized by a linear bathymetric depression and numerous collapse features. The flat valley floor adjacent to the central zone consists of ferrobasalt lobate flows and sheet flows; sediment cover is minimal. Vent sites are characterized by concentrations of tube worms, clams, benthic siphonophores, and several unidentified fauna.
Two types of massive sulfide were dredged from one of the vent sites. Type A samples are angular slabs of dark gray Zn-rich sulfide with interlayers and a thin, partly oxidized crust of Fe sulfide. These layered sulfide aggregates appear to be fragments of a sulfide wall enclosing an active hydrothermal vent. The outer sulfide wall is composed mainly of colloform Fe sulfide and Fe-poor sphalerite deposited under lower-temperature conditions whereby sea water and hydrothermal fluid mix above the discharge point. With continued sulfide deposition, the wall inhibits mixing of sea water and hydrothermal fluid. Inside the wall, the intensifying hydrothermal system deposits a higher-temperature assemblage of granular Fe-rich sphalerite, wurtzite, pyrite, and minor Cu-Fe sulfide. The zonation in wurtzite from Fe-rich cores to Fe-poor rims may result from a late-stage cooling of the hydrothermal fluid and(or) a change in fluid chemistry. The sulfide wall grows outward where a rupture in it permits the escape of high-temperature fluid and then deposition of a secondary shell over the breakthrough point. As temperature increases, earlier-formed minerals dissolve, and Zn, Fe, and Pb migrate toward the outer sulfide wall. Tube worms flourished in the outer wall of type A samples, and abandoned tube structures served as conduits for the late-stage hydrothermal fluids.
Type B sulfide samples are subrounded, spongy-textured fragments composed almost entirely of dendritic aggregates of pale, Fe-poor colloform sphalerite and opaline silica. This type of sulfide is deposited in open space by moderate- to low-temperature fluid discharging at a slow but variable rate; the fluid becomes increasingly oxidizing, resulting in late-stage deposition of hematite, barite, and sulfur. Type B samples show little evidence of burrowing animals; this type of sulfide may be deposited in settings peripheral to sites of focused discharge.