National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2016

Where are the undiscovered hydrothermal vents on oceanic spreading ridges?

Beaulieu, S.E., E.T. Baker, and C.R. German

Deep-Sea Res. II, 121, 202–212, doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2015.05.001 (2015)

In nearly four decades since the discovery of deep-sea vents, one-third of the length of global oceanic spreading ridges has been surveyed for hydrothermal activity. Active submarine vent fields are now known along the boundaries of 46 out of 52 recognized tectonic plates. Hydrothermal survey efforts over the most recent decade were sparked by national and commercial interests in the mineral resource potential of seafloor hydrothermal deposits, as well as by academic research. Here we incorporate recent data for back-arc spreading centers and ultraslow- and slow-spreading mid-ocean ridges (MORs) to revise a linear equation relating the frequency of vent fields along oceanic spreading ridges to spreading rate. We apply this equation globally to predict a total number of vent fields on spreading ridges, which suggests that ~900 vent fields remain to be discovered. Almost half of these undiscovered vent fields (comparable to the total of all vent fields discovered during 35 years of research) are likely to occur at MORs with full spreading rates less than 60 mm/yr. We then apply the equation regionally to predict where these hydrothermal vents may be discovered with respect to plate boundaries and national jurisdiction, with the majority expected to occur outside of states' exclusive economic zones. We hope that these predictions will prove useful to the community in the future, in helping to shape continuing ridge-crest exploration.

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