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Hybrid shallow on-axis and deep off-axis hydrothermal circulation at fast-spreading ridges
Hasenclever, J.; Theissen-Krah, S.; Rüpke, L.H.; Morgan, J.P.; Iyer, K.; Petersen, S.; Devey, C.W. (2014). Hybrid shallow on-axis and deep off-axis hydrothermal circulation at fast-spreading ridges. Nature (Lond.) 508(7497): 508-512.
In: Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science. Nature Publishing Group: London. ISSN 0028-0836, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Hasenclever, J.
  • Theissen-Krah, S.
  • Rüpke, L.H.
  • Morgan, J.P.
  • Iyer, K.
  • Petersen, S.
  • Devey, C.W.

    Hydrothermal flow at oceanic spreading centres accounts for about ten per cent of all heat flux in the oceans and controls the thermal structure of young oceanic plates. It also influences ocean and crustal chemistry, provides a basis for chemosynthetic ecosystems, and has formed massive sulphide ore deposits throughout Earth’s history. Despite this, how and under what conditions heat is extracted, in particular from the lower crust, remains largely unclear. Here we present high-resolution, whole-crust, two- and three-dimensional simulations of hydrothermal flow beneath fast-spreading ridges that predict the existence of two interacting flow components, controlled by different physical mechanisms, that merge above the melt lens to feed ridge-centred vent sites. Shallow on-axis flow structures develop owing to the thermodynamic properties of water, whereas deeper off-axis flow is strongly shaped by crustal permeability, particularly the brittle–ductile transition. About 60 per cent of the discharging fluid mass is replenished on-axis by warm (up to 300 degrees Celsius) recharge flow surrounding the hot thermal plumes, and the remaining 40 per cent or so occurs as colder and broader recharge up to several kilometres away from the axis that feeds hot (500–700 degrees Celsius) deep-rooted off-axis flow towards the ridge. Despite its lower contribution to the total mass flux, this deep off-axis flow carries about 70 per cent of the thermal energy released at the ridge axis. This combination of two flow components explains the seismically determined thermal structure of the crust and reconciles previously incompatible models favouring either shallower on-axis or deeper off-axis hydrothermal circulation.

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