National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1991

In situ chemical mapping of dissolved iron and manganese in hydrothermal plumes

Coale, K.H., C.S. Chin, G.J. Massoth, K.S. Johnson, and E.T. Baker

Nature, 352, 325–328, doi: 10.1038/352325a0 (1991)

Hydrothermal vents along mid-ocean ridges are an important source of elements such as lithium, silicon, manganese and iron to the world's oceans. The venting produces both episodic and steady- state hydrothermal plumes with unique thermochemical signatures in the mid-water column. The particulate phases in these plumes (predominantly iron oxides and hydroxides) also scavenge phosphorus, vanadium, arsenic, lead, polonium and several rare-earth elements from sea water. Thus, on a global scale, hydrothermal plumes are both a source for some elements and a sink for others. Ultimately, the particulate metals precipitated from plumes form extensive regions of metalliferous sediments over the crests and flanks of mid-ocean ridges. Although the metalliferous sediment coverage is vast and well documented, only a tiny fraction of the vents responsible for these sediments have been located. To date, both the number and location of hydrothermal vents and the detailed distribution of chemical constituents within the resultant plumes are poorly understood because of under-sampling of the mid-ocean ridges and the overlying waters. Here we present the results of high-resolution mapping of the chemical and thermal characteristics of hydrothermal plumes in near real time using a novel submersible chemical analyser (Scanner) and a conductivity/temperature/depth/transmissometer instrument package (CTDT). We show that the kinetics of iron oxidation in the plume can be used to constrain estimates of the plume's age, and that variation in the ratio of manganese content to excess heat can be explained by the mixing of several different vent fluids.

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