Volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits may represent a significant future source of Te, which is a critical element important for the green energy transition. Tellurium is enriched in these settings by up to 10,000 times over its crustal abundance, indicating that fluids in sea-floor hydrothermal systems may transport and precipitate Te. The major element composition of these hydrothermal fluids is controlled by fluid-rock interaction and is well documented based on experimental, modeling, and natural studies; however, controls on Te mobility are still unknown. To better understand Te enrichment in this deposit type, numerical simulations of the mafic-hosted Vienna Woods and the felsic-hosted Fenway sea-floor vents in the Manus basin were performed to predict Te mobility in modern sea-floor hydrothermal vent fluids and Te deposition during sulfide formation. These simulations demonstrate that the mobility of Te in sea-floor hydrothermal systems is primarily controlled by fluid redox and temperature. Tellurium mobility is low in reduced hydrothermal fluids, whereas mobility of this metal is high at oxidized conditions at temperatures above 250°C. Numerical simulations of the reduced vent fluids of the mafic-hosted Vienna Woods site at the back-arc spreading center in the Manus basin yielded Te concentrations as low as 0.2 ppt. In contrast, the more oxidized model fluids of the felsic-hosted Fenway site located on Pual Ridge in the eastern Manus basin contain 50 ppt Te. The models suggest that Te enrichment in these systems reflects rock-buffer control on oxygen fugacity, rather than an enriched source of Te. In fact, the mafic volcanic rocks probably contain more Te than felsic volcanic rocks. The association of elevated Te contents in the felsic-hosted Fenway system likely reflects magmatic volatile input resulting in lower pH and higher Eh of the fluids. More generally, analysis of sulfide samples collected from modern sea-floor vent sites confirms that redox buffering by the host rocks is a first-order control on Te mobility in hydrothermal fluids. The Te content of sulfides from sea-floor hydrothermal vents hosted by basalt-dominated host rocks is generally lower than those of sulfides from vents located in felsic volcanic successions. Literature review suggests that this relationship also holds true for volcanogenic massive sulfides hosted in ancient volcanic successions. Results from reactive transport simulations further suggest that Te deposition during sulfide formation is primarily temperature controlled. Modeling shows that tellurium minerals are coprecipitated with other sulfides at high temperatures (275°–350°C), whereas Te deposition is distinctly lower at intermediate (150°–275°C) and low temperatures (100°–150°C). These predictions agree with geochemical analyses of sea-floor sulfides as Te broadly correlates positively with Cu and Au enrichment in felsic-hosted systems. The findings of this study provide an important baseline for future studies on the behavior of Te in hydrothermal systems and the processes controlling enrichment of this critical mineral in polymetallic sulfide ores.

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