National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2014

Bathymetric influence on dissolved methane in hydrothermal plumes revealed by concentration and stable carbon isotope measurements at newly discovered venting sites on the Central Indian Ridge (11–13°S)

You, O.-R., S.K Son, E.T. Baker, J. Son, M.J. Kim, M.J. Barcelona, and M. Kim

Deep-Sea Res. I, 91, 17–26, doi: 10.1016/j.dsr.2014.05.011 (2014)

Methane is a useful tracer for studying hydrothermal discharge, especially where the source fluids are of low temperature and lack metal precipitates. However, the dual origins of deep-sea methane, both chemical and biological, complicate the interpretation of methane observations. Here, we use both the concentration and stable carbon isotopic composition (δ13C) of dissolved methane to trace hydrothermal plumes and identify the source and behavior of methane at two sites of newly discovered hydrothermal activity on the Central Indian Ridge (11–13°S). At both sites, methane and optical anomalies between 2500 and 3500 m at all stations indicate active hydrothermal discharge. We compared methane concentrations and δ13C at three stations, two (CTIR110136 and CTIR110208) with the most prominent anomalies at each site, and a third (CTIR110140) with near-background methane values. At stations CTIR110136 and CTIR110208, the concentration and δ13C of methane in distinct plumes ranged from 3.3 to 42.3 nmol kg−1 and −30.0 to −15.4‰, respectively, compared to deep-water values of 0.5 to 1.2 nmol kg−1 and −35.1 to −28.9‰ at the station with a near-background distal plume (CTIR110140). δ13C was highest in the center of the plumes at CTIR110136 (−15.4‰) and CTIR110208 (−17.8‰). From the plume values we estimate that the δ13C of methane in the hydrothermal fluids at these stations was approximately −19‰ and thus the methane was most likely derived from magmatic outgassing or the chemical synthesis of inorganic matter. We used the relationship between δ13C and methane concentration to examine the behavior of methane at the plume stations. In the CTIR110208 plume, simple physical mixing was likely the major process controlling the methane profile. In the CTIR110136 plume we interpret a more complicated relationship as resulting from microbial oxidation as well as physical mixing. We argue that this difference in methane behavior between the two areas stems from a distinct bathymetric dissimilarity between the two stations. The location of CTIR110208 on the open slope of a ridge allowed rapid plume dispersion and physical mixing, whereas the location of CTIR110136 in a small basin surrounded by wall structures inhibited physical mixing and enhanced microbial oxidation.

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