National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2006

Formation and evolution of carbonate chimneys at the Lost City Hydrothermal Field

Ludwig, K., D.S. Kelley, D.A. Butterfield, B.K. Nelson, and G. Früh-Green

Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 70(14), 3625–3645, doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2006.04.016 (2006)

The Lost City Hydrothermal Field at 30°N, near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, is an off-axis, moderate temperature, high-pH (9–10.8), serpentinite-hosted vent system. The field is hosted on ~1.5 Ma crust, near the summit of the Atlantis Massif. Within the field, actively venting carbonate chimneys tower up to 60 m above the seafloor, making them the tallest vent structures known. The chemistry of the chimneys and vent fluids is controlled by serpentinization reactions between seawater and underlying peridotite. Mixing of <40-91°C calcium-rich vent fluids with seawater results in the precipitation of variable mixtures of aragonite, calcite, and brucite. The resultant deposits range from tall, graceful pinnacles to fragile flanges and delicate precipitates that grow outward from fissures in the bedrock. In this study, mineralogy, petrographic analyses, major and trace element concentrations, and Sr isotopic compositions are used to propose a model for the growth and chemical evolution of carbonate chimneys in a serpentinite-hosted environment. Our results show that nascent chimneys are characterized by a porous, interlacing network of aragonite, and brucite minerals that form extremely fragile structures. The chemistry of these young deposits is characterized by ~10 wt% Ca and up to 27 wt% Mg, extremely low trace metal concentrations, and 87Sr/86Sr isotope ratios near 0.70760. During aging of the chimneys, progressive reactions with seawater result in the dissolution of brucite, the conversion of aragonite to calcite, and infilling of pore spaces with calcite. The oldest chimneys are dominated by calcite, with bulk rock values of up to 36 wt% Ca and <1 wt% Mg. These older structures contain higher concentrations of trace metals (e.g., Mn and Ti), and have Sr isotope ratios near seawater values (0.70908). Exposed ultramafic rocks are prevalent along the Mid- Atlantic, Arctic, and Indian Ocean ridge networks and it is likely that other Lost City-type systems exist.

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