Serpentinized ultramafic rocks recovered from beneath the southern Iberia Abyssal Plain (Ocean Drilling Programme Leg 173) provide the first record of fractal carbonate replacement patterns in a serpentinite. The patterns are expressed as microscopic branching aggregates (clusters) of aragonite disseminated throughout the serpentinites. Aragonite growth was the final mineralization event. The aragonite diminishes rapidly in quantity from an essential to a trace component of the serpentinite over a distance of ~40 m from a normal fault. Decreasing abundance of aragonite away from the normal fault links the growth of the carbonate to the multistage hydrothermal mineralization associated with the fault.

Aragonite clusters are concentrated in picrolite, where they are interwoven with colloid-sized chrysotile, and show fractal growth habits. Areas adjacent to the clusters are sites of Mg enrichment of the serpentine medium relative to aragonite-free picrolite. It is interpreted that the aragonite clusters result from incursions of reactive seawater solutions through fine-scale pore structures in and around the fault in response to pressure gradients emanating from active tectonism. Cluster growth is interpreted to be a percolation phenomenon and provides a novel source of information on the nature of fine-scale reactive fluid flow, pore-space connectivity, and carbonate replacement processes in serpentinites.

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