National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2011

Submarine hydrothermal activity and gold-rich mineralization at Brothers Volcano, Kermadec Arc, New Zealand

De Ronde, C.E.J., G.J. Massoth, D.A. Butterfield, B.W. Christenson, J. Ishibashi, R.G. Ditchburn, M.D. Hannington, R.L. Brathwaite, J.E. Lupton, V.S. Kamenetsky, I.J. Graham, G.F. Zellmer, R.P. Dziak, R.W. Embley, V.M. Dekove, F. Munnik, J. Lahr, L.J. Evans, and K. Takai

Mineralium Deposita, 46(5–6), 541–584, doi: 10.1007/s00126-011-0345-8 (2011)

Brothers volcano, of the Kermadec intraoceanic arc, is host to a hydrothermal system unique among seafloor hydrothermal systems known anywhere in the world. It has two distinct vent fields, known as the NW Caldera and Cone sites, whose geology, permeability, vent fluid compositions, mineralogy, and ore-forming conditions are in stark contrast to each other. The NW Caldera site strikes for −600 m in a SW–NE direction with chimneys occurring over a −145-m depth interval, between −1,690 and 1,545 m. At least 100 dead and active sulfide chimney spires occur in this field and are typically 2–3 m in height, with some reaching 6–7 m. Their ages (at time of sampling) fall broadly into three groups: <4, 23, and 35 years old. The chimneys typically occur near the base of individual fault-controlled benches on the caldera wall, striking in lines orthogonal to the slopes. Rarer are massive sulfide crusts 2–3 m thick. Two main types of chimney predominate: Cu-rich (up to 28.5 wt.% Cu) and, more commonly, Zn-rich (up to 43.8 wt.% Zn). Geochemical results show that Mo, Bi, Co, Se, Sn, and Au (up to 91 ppm) are correlated with the Cu mineralization, whereas Cd, Hg, Sb, Ag, and As are associated with the dominant Zn-rich mineralization. The Cone site comprises the Upper Cone site atop the summit of the recent (main) dacite cone and the Lower Cone site that straddles the summit of an older, smaller, more degraded dacite cone on the NE flank of the main cone. Huge volumes of diffuse venting are seen at the Lower Cone site, in contrast to venting at both the Upper Cone and NW Caldera sites. Individual vents are marked by low-relief (≤0.5 m) mounds comprising predominately native sulfur with bacterial mats. Vent fluids of the NW Caldera field are focused, hot (≤300°C), acidic (pH ≥ 2.8), metal-rich, and gas-poor. Calculated end-member fluids from NW Caldera vents indicate that phase separation has occurred, with Cl values ranging from 93% to 137% of seawater values. By contrast, vent fluids at the Cone site are diffuse, noticeably cooler (≤122°C), more acidic (pH 1.9), metal-poor, and gas-rich. Higher-than-seawater values of SO4 and Mg in the Cone vent fluids show that these ions are being added to the hydrothermal fluid and are not being depleted via normal water/rock interactions. Iron oxide crusts 3 years in age cover the main cone summit and appear to have formed from Fe-rich brines. Evidence for magmatic contributions to the hydrothermal system at Brothers includes: high concentrations of dissolved CO2 (e.g., 206 mM/kg at the Cone site); high CO2/3He; negative δD and δ18OH2O for vent fluids; negative δ34S for sulfides (to −4.6‰), sulfur (to −10.2‰), and δ15N2 (to −3.5‰); vent fluid pH values to 1.9; and mineral assemblages common to high-sulfidation systems. Changing physicochemical conditions at the Brothers hydrothermal system, and especially the Cone site, occur over periods of months to hundreds of years, as shown by interlayered Cu + Au- and Zn-rich zones in chimneys, variable fluid and isotopic compositions, similar shifts in 3He/4He values for both Cone and NW Caldera sites, and overprinting of “magmatic” mineral assemblages by water/rock-dominated assemblages. Metals, especially Cu and possibly Au, may be entering the hydrothermal system via the dissolution of metal-rich glasses. They are then transported rapidly up into the system via magmatic volatiles utilizing vertical ( −2.5 km long), narrow ( −300-m diameter) “pipes,” consistent with evidence of vent fluids forming at relatively shallow depths. The NW Caldera and Cone sites are considered to represent stages along a continuum between water/rock- and magmatic/hydrothermal-dominated end-members.

Feature Publications | Outstanding Scientific Publications

Contact Sandra Bigley |