Abstract

Mercury- and silver-enriched ferromanganese oxide crusts were recovered at water depths of 1,750 to1,300 m from La Victoria knoll, located about 72 km off the coast of northern Baja California. No other ferromanganese precipitate found so far in the modern ocean basins is similarly enriched in Hg and Ag. The precipitates consist of submetallic gray, brecciated, Mn oxide layers overlain by brown earthy, laminated Fe-Mn oxide crusts. Both oxide types are rich in Hg (to 10 ppm) and Ag (to 5.5 ppm). The Mn-rich layers are composed of δMnO2, with lesser amounts of 10Å and 7Å manganates, whereas the Mn phase in the Fe-Mn crusts is solely δMnO2. The Fe phase in both layers is X-ray amorphous. Established criteria for distinguishing hydrothermal versus hydrogenetic crusts indicate that the Mn-rich layers are predominantly of low-temperature hydrothermal origin, whereas the Fe-Mn crusts are hydrogenetic, although there is some overlap in the source of chemical components in both types. La Victoria knoll is uplifted continental basement rock with basalt, andesite, and schist cropping out at the surface; the knoll may have an intrusive core. The Hg and Ag were derived from leaching by hydrothermal fluids of organic matter-rich sediments in basins adjacent to La Victoria knoll and, to a lesser extent, from continental basement rocks underlying the knoll and adjacent basins. Both rock types are notably enriched in Ag and Hg. Faults were the main fluid transport pathway, and hydrothermal circulation was driven by high heat flow associated with thinned crust. Other elements derived from the hydrothermal fluids include Tl, Cd, Cr, and Li. The main host for Hg and Ag is FeOOH, although MnO2 likely hosts some of the Ag. Minor sulfide and barite also may contain small amounts of these metals. Possible analogs in the geologic record for this deposit type are found in the Basin and Range province of the western United States and Mexico. The discovery highlights the fact that fluids circulating along faults in the offshore California borderland are transporting potentially toxic metals (Hg, Ag, Tl, As, Cd, Cr, Pb, and Ni) and depositing them on and just below the ocean floor.

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