Abstract

A geyser mound, which has formed around the vent of an abandoned well-bore in the Tokaanu geothermal area (North Island, New Zealand) over the last 50 years, is formed primarily of white opal-A along with lesser amounts of black opal-A, reticulate, amorphous or poorly crystalline clay, halite, and scattered detrital quartz grains. Despite the boiling water ejected from the vent, at least 19 taxa of silicified microbes are present in the geyserite. Calothrix, Phormidium, and Synechococcus dominate. Other microbes, including local concentrations of diatoms, are widely scattered. The dominance of cyanobacteria is enigmatic given that these microbes typically are found in cooler water environments (< 60°C) on the medial to distal parts of geyser and hot-spring discharge aprons.

The proximal zone around a geyser vent is environmentally unstable because it oscillates between periodic eruptions of boiling water and cooler phases in accord with the eruptive cycle of the geyser. Thus, the environmental niches on a geyser mound are temporally and spatially variable. The periodicity, duration, and magnitude of the eruptions, and the dispersal patterns of boiling water during eruptions control the distribution of the microenvironmental niches and their temporal changes. Dispersal and cooling of the ejected water will, for example, be controlled by factors such as height of the erupted water, ambient air temperature, and prevailing wind direction.

Biotas compatible with relatively cool waters may thrive on geyser mounds because they inhabit areas that are not inundated constantly by boiling water. Their development and the sinter fabrics that they generate in the proximal zone of a geyser vent means that ancient deposits must be interpreted with caution.

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