National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Tectonic and magmatic controls on hydrothermal activity in the Woodlark Basin

Laurila, T.E., S. Petersen, C.W. Devey, E.T. Baker, N. Augustin, and M.D. Hannington

Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 13(9), Q09006, doi: 10.1029/2012GC004247 (2012)

The Woodlark Basin is one of the rare places on earth where the transition from continental breakup to seafloor spreading can be observed. The potential juxtaposition of continental rocks, a large magmatic heat source, crustal-scale faulting, and hydrothermal circulation has made the Woodlark Basin a prime target for seafloor mineral exploration. However, over the past 20 years, only two locations of active hydrothermalism had been found. In 2009 we surveyed 435 km of the spreading axis for the presence of hydrothermal plumes. Only one additional plume was found, bringing the total number of plumes known over 520 km of ridge axis to only 3, much less than at ridges with similar spreading rates globally. Particularly the western half of the basin (280 km of axis) is apparently devoid of high temperature plumes despite having thick crust and a presumably high magmatic budget. This paucity of hydrothermal activity may be related to the peculiar tectonic setting at Woodlark, where repeated ridge jumps and a re-location of the rotation pole both lead to axial magmatism being more widely distributed than at many other, more mature and stable mid-ocean ridges. These factors could inhibit the development of both a stable magmatic heat source and the deeply penetrating faults needed to create long-lived hydrothermal systems. We conclude that large seafloor massive sulfide deposits, potential targets for seafloor mineral exploration, will probably not be present along the spreading axis of the Woodlark Basin, especially in its younger, western portion.

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