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Published December 10, 1985 | Published
Journal Article Open

An integrated chemical and stable-isotope model of the origin of Midocean Ridge Hot Spring Systems


Chemical and isotopic changes accompanying seawater-basalt interaction in axial midocean ridge hydrothermal systems are modeled with the aid of chemical equilibria and mass transfer computer programs, incorporating provision for addition and subtraction of a wide-range of reactant and product minerals, as well as cation and oxygen and hydrogen isotopic exchange equilibria. The models involve stepwise introduction of fresh basalt into progressively modified seawater at discrete temperature intervals from 100° to 350°C, with an overall water-rock ratio of about 0.5 being constrained by an assumed δ^(18)O_(H_2O) at 350°C of +2.0 per mil (H. Craig, personal communication, 1984). This is a realistic model because: (1) the grade of hydrothermal metamorphism increases sharply downward in the oceanic crust; (2) the water-rock ratio is high (>50) at low temperatures and low (<0.5) at high temperatures; and (3) it allows for back-reaction of earlier-formed minerals during the course of reaction progress. The results closely match the major-element chemistry (Von Damm et al., 1985) and isotopic compositions (Craig et al., 1980) of the hydrothermal solutions presently emanating from vents at 21°N on the East Pacific Rise. The calculated solution chemistry, for example, correctly predicts complete loss of Mg and SO_4 and substantial increases in Si and Fe; however, discrepancies exist in the predicted pH (5.5 versus 3.5 measured) and state of saturation of the solution with respect to greenschist-facies minerals. The calculated δD_(H_2O) is +2.6 per mil, in excellent agreement with analytical determinations. The calculated chemical, mineralogic, and isotopic changes in the rocks are also in good accord with observations on altered basalts dredged from midocean ridges (Humphris and Thompson, 1978; Stakes and O'Neil, 1982), as well as with data from ophiolites (Gregory and Taylor, 1981). Predicted alteration products include anhydrite and clay minerals at low temperatures and a typical albite-epidote-chlorite-tremolite (greenschist) assemblage at 350°C. The models demand that the major portion of the water-rock interaction occur at temperatures of 300°–350°C. Interaction at temperatures below approximately 250°C results in negative δ^(18)_O_(H_2O) shifts, contrary to the observed positive δ^(18)O values of the fluids exiting at midocean ridge vents. Hydrogen isotope fractionation curves by Suzuoki and Epstein (1976), Lambert and Epstein (1980), and Liu and Epstein (1984), among others, are compatible with the model, and require δD_(H_2O) to increase at all temperatures as a result of seawater-basalt interaction.

Additional Information

Copyright 1985 by the American Geophysical Union. (Received December 14, 1984; revised July 26, 1985; accepted July 30, 1985.) Paper number 4B5398. Financial support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation, grants OCE-8019021 and OCE-8315280, and by The Resource Geology Research Fund of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology. We are indebted to John Edmond, Sam Epstein, Hal Helgeson, Dave Janecky, Peter Larson, Denis Norton, Debra Stakes, and Karen Von Damm for their helpful suggestions, assistance, and encouragement during the course of this research, and we wish to thank Harmon Craig for allowing us to quote his unpublished isotopic analyses of MOR hydrothermal fluids. We would also like to express our appreciation to J. K. Böhlke, Dave Janecky, Mike Mottl, K. Valla Ragnarsdöttir, and Karen Von Damm for their constructive reviews of the manuscript and helpful suggestions for improvement. Contribution 4146 of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology.

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