National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2005

Hydrothermal activity on near-arc sections of back-arc ridges: Results from the Mariana Trough and Lau Basin

Baker, E.T., G.J. Massoth, K. Nakamura, R.W. Embley, C.E.J. de Ronde, and R.J. Arculus

Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 6(9), Q09001, doi: 10.1029/2005GC000948 (2005)

The spatial density of hydrothermal venting is strongly correlated with spreading rate on mid-ocean ridges (with the interesting exception of hot spot-affected ridges), evidently because spreading rate is a reliable proxy for the magma budget. This correlation remains untested on spreading ridges in back-arc basins, where the magma budget may be complicated by subduction-induced variations of the melt supply. To address this uncertainty,we conducted hydrothermal plume surveys along slow-spreading (40-60 mm/yr) and arc-proximal (10-60 km distant) sections of the southern Mariana Trough and the Valu Fa Ridge (Lau Basin). On both sections we found multiple plumes overlying ~15-20% of the total length of each section, a coverage comparable to mid-ocean ridges spreading at similar rates. These conditions contrast with earlier reported results from the two nearest-arc segments of a faster spreading (60-70 mm/yr) backarc ridge, the East Scotia Ridge, which approaches no closer than 100 km to its arc. There, hydrothermal venting is relatively scarce (~5% plume coverage) and the ridge characteristics are distinctly slowspreading: small central volcanic highs bookended by deep median valleys, and axial melt lenses restricted to the volcanic highs. Two factors may contribute to an unexpectedly low hydrothermal budget on these East Scotia Ridge segments: they may lie too far from the adjacent arc to benefit from near-arc sources of melt supply, and subduction-aided migration of mantle from the Bouvet hot spot may reduce hydrothermal circulation by local crustal warming and thickening, analogous to the Reykjanes Ridge. Thus the pattern among these three ridge sections appears to mirror the larger global pattern defined by mid-ocean ridges: a well-defined trend of spreading rate versus hydrothermal activity on most ridge sections, plus a subset of ridge sections where unusual melt delivery conditions diminish the expected hydrothermal activity.

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