National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2019

Physico-chemical properties of newly discovered hydrothermal plumes above the Southern Mid-Atlantic Ridge (13°–33°S)

Schmid, F., M. Peters, M. Walter, C. Devey, S. Petersen, I. Yeo, J. Köhler, J.W. Jamieson, S. Walker, and J. Sültenfauß

Deep-Sea Res. I, 148, 34–52, doi: 10.1016/j.dsr.2019.04.010, View online (2019)

The oceanic crust is initially cooled and deep-sea chemosynthetic ecosystems are largely fed by hydrothermal circulation and venting on the seafloor. Much of this venting takes place at mid-ocean ridges and in order to make realistic models of the crust's thermal budget and to understand chemosynthetic biogeography it is important to have a detailed inventory of vent sites. Until recently, a major gap in this inventory was the Mid-Atlantic Ridge south of 13°S, a key region for vent fauna biogeography as it is the corridor linking the Atlantic to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In spring 2013 we systematically surveyed the axial region between 13°S and 33°S for hydrothermal signals in the water column, using turbidity, oxidation-reduction-potential (ORP) and noble gases as indicators. Standard conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) rosette water-sampler deployments were complimented by a novel autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) deployment strategy, in which the AUV made single-pass, segment-scale (up to 100 km long) dives close to the seafloor to detect small vents. The ca. 2100 km-long survey covered 16 ridge segments and we identified previously unknown hydrothermal plumes above ten segments that point to 14 new hydrothermal vent fields. The majority of plumes are located at high-relief segment centers, where magmatism is robust. A wide gap in the distribution of vents in the 19°S-23°S region coincides with the Rio de Janeiro Transform, the maximum southward progression of North Atlantic Deep Waters and the maximum northwards extent of 3He-enriched waters with Pacific origins. Crossflowing currents in the transform and the large gap between adjacent vents may prevent a meridional connection between the vent fauna communities in the North Atlantic and along the Antarctic Ridges. This makes the region a prime target for future biogeographical studies.

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