National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Hydrothermal activity in the Northwest Lau Backarc Basin: Evidence from water column measurements

Lupton, J.E., R.J. Arculus, J. Resing, G.J. Massoth, R.R. Greene, L.J. Evans, and N. Buck

Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 13(1), Q0AF04, doi: 10.1029/2011GC003891 (2012)

The Northwest Lau Backarc Basin, consisting of the Northwest Lau Spreading Center (NWLSC) and the Rochambeau Rifts (RR), is unique in having elevated 3He/4He ratios (up to 28 Ra) in the erupted lavas, clearly indicating a hot spot or ocean island basalt (OIB)-type signature. This OIB-type helium signature does not appear in any other part of the Lau Basin. Water column plume surveys conducted in 2008 and 2010 identified several sites of active hydrothermal discharge along the NWLSC-RR and showed that the incidence of hydrothermal activity is high, consistent with the high spreading rate of ∼100 mm/year. Hydrocasts into the Central Caldera and Southern Caldera of the NWLSC detected elevated 3He/4He (δ3He = 55% and 100%, respectively), trace metals (TMn, TFe), and suspended particles, indicating localized hydrothermal venting at these two sites. Hydrocasts along the northern rift zone of the NWLSC also had excess δ3He, TMn, and suspended particles suggesting additional sites of hydrothermal activity. The RR are dominated by Lobster Caldera, a large volcano with four radiating rift zones. Hydrocasts into Lobster Caldera in 2008 detected high δ3He (up to 239%) and suspended particle and TMn signals, indicating active venting within the caldera. A repeat survey of Lobster in 2010 confirmed the site was still active two years later. Plumes at Lobster Caldera and Central Caldera have end-member 3He/4He ratios of 19 Ra and 11 Ra, respectively, confirming that hot spot-type helium is also present in the hydrothermal fluids.

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