Thermocouple arrays were deployed on two deep-sea hydrothermal vents at Guaymas Basin (27 degrees 0.5'N, 111 degrees 24.5'W) in order to measure in situ temperatures at which microorganisms colonize the associated mineral deposits. Intact sections of three structures that formed around the arrays were collected after 4 and 72 day deployments (named BM4, BM72 and TS72). Archaeal diversity associated with discreet subsamples collected across each deposit was determined by polymerase chain reaction amplification of 16S rRNA genes. Spatial differences in archaeal diversity were observed in all deposits and appeared related to in situ temperature. In BM4, no 16S rRNA genes were detected beyond about 1.5 cm within the sample (> 200 degrees C). Phylotypes detected on the outside of this deposit belong to taxonomic groups containing mesophiles and (hyper)thermophiles, whereas only putative hyperthermophiles were detected 1.5 cm inside the structure (approximately 110 degrees C). In contrast, the more moderate thermal gradient recorded across TS72 was associated with a deeper colonization (2-3 cm inside the deposit) of putative hyperthermophilic phylotypes. Although our study does not provide a precise assessment of the highest temperature for the existence of microbial habitats inside the deposits, archaeal 16S rRNA genes were detected directly next to thermocouples that measured 110 degrees C (Methanocaldococcus spp. in BM4) and 116 degrees C (Desulfurococcaceae in TS72). The successive array deployments conducted at the Broken Mushroom (BM) site also revealed compositional differences in archaeal communities associated with immature (BM4) and mature chimneys (BM72) formed by the same fluids. These differences suggest a temporal transition in the primary carbon sources used by the archaeal communities, with potential CO(2)/H(2) methanogens prevalent in BM4 being replaced by possible methylotroph or acetoclastic methanogens and heterotrophs in BM72. This study is the first direct assessment of in situ conditions experienced by microorganisms inhabiting actively forming hydrothermal deposits at different stages of structure development.