National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2009

Relationships between hydrothermal activity and axial magma chamber distribution, depth, and melt content

Baker, E.T.

Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 10, Q06009, doi: 10.1029/2009GC002424 (2009)

Hydrothermal activity, especially high-temperature discharge, is commonly thought to require the presence of an axial magma chamber (AMC), but this association has not been examined systematically. The availability of six lengthy (170–560 km) ridge sections with continuous surveys of both AMCs and hydrothermal plumes now makes it possible to quantitatively compare the distribution and intensity of hydrothermal activity to AMC extent, depth, and, at a few locations, melt content. These six ridge sections span spreading rates from 55 to 145 mm/a and total 20 second-order segments. At the section (multisegment) scale the linear incidence of hydrothermal plumes increases with AMC incidence (AMCI, r 2 = 0.64), excluding the hot spot–affected Galápagos spreading center. For all six sections, plume incidence increases as AMC depth below the seafloor decreases (AMCZ, r 2 = 0.66). At the second-order segment scale, plume incidence is poorly correlated with both AMCI (r 2 = 0.12) and AMCZ (r 2 = 0.25). Finally, at the subsegment, or local, scale (0.75-km-long bins), plume intensity increases as AMCZ shallows (r 2 = 0.85). Of bins where plumes are most intense and thus closest to their seafloor sources, 68 ± 13% lie directly over an AMC, as do at least 37 of the 40 known high-temperature vent fields. The data also allow tests of other hypotheses linking AMC properties and hydrothermal activity. Existing data, though still sparse, do not support the hypothesis that lenses of melt-rich magma preferentially support vigorous, long-lasting venting. Also, the suggestion that increased hydrothermal cooling within a segment locally depresses AMCZ finds no support within any ridge section. Evidence for magma bodies is much scarcer on slow spreading ridges, but the data are nevertheless consistent with those from faster ridges. Observations from all spreading rates thus demonstrate that high-temperature vent fields are almost universally associated with the presence or inference of magma; “hot rock” or other nonmagmatic heat sources are insufficient.

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