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Changes in submarine hydrothermal 3He/heat ratios as an indicator of magmatic/tectonic activity

Edward T. Baker

Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, Washington 98115, USA

John E. Lupton

Marine Science Institute and Department of Geological Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

Nature, 346, 556-558 (1990)
Copyright ©1990 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Further electronic distribution not allowed.

An important question in submarine hydrothermal research concerns the connection between hydrothermal discharge from a spreading centre and variations in local magmatic and tectonic activity. Because it is likely that tectonic stretching and concomitant shallow magmatic activity triggered the cataclysmic venting that created the Juan de Fuca Ridge 'megaplumes' [Baker et al., 1987; Baker et al., 1989; Cann and Strens, 1989], we have for three years monitored the He concentration and temperature anomaly of the underlying steady-state plume at the site of the original megaplume. We report here that the apparent He/heat ratio in the steady-state plume has progressively decreased from 4.4 to 2.4 to 1.3 × 10 cm STP cal, changing from a uniquely high ratio to one characteristic of established vent fields on other ridge segments [Rosenberg et al., 1988; Jenkins et al., 1978; Welhan and Craig, 1983; Merlivat et al., 1987; Lupton et al., 1980]. We propose that the initially high He/heat ratio, sampled within days of the megaplume eruption, resulted from magma degassing into a hydrothermal circulation system of high permeability and short fluid residence time. Thus, high He/heat ratios may indicate venting created or profoundly perturbed by a magmatic-tectonic event, and lower ratios may typify systems at equilibrium.

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