The Trans-Atlantic Geotraverse hydrothermal field: A hydrothermal system on an active detachment fault Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Over the last ten years, geophysical studies have revealed that the Trans-Atlantic Geotraverse (TAG) hydrothermal field (26°08’N on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge) is located on the hanging wall of an active detachment fault. This is particularly important in light of the recognition that detachment faulting accounts for crustal accretion/extension along a significant portion of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and that the majority of confirmed vent sites on this slow-spreading ridge are hosted on detachment faults. The TAG hydrothermal field is one of the largest sites of high-temperature hydrothermal activity and mineralization found to date on the seafloor, and is comprised of active and relict deposits in different stages of evolution. The episodic nature of hydrothermal activity over the last 140 ka provides strong evidence that the complex shape and geological structure of the active detachment fault system exerts first order, but poorly understood, influences on the hydrothermal circulation patterns, fluid chemistry, and mineral deposition. While hydrothermal circulation extracts heat from a deep source region, the location of the source region at TAG is unknown. Hydrothermal upflow is likely focused along the relatively permeable detachment fault interface at depth, and then the high temperature fluids leave the low-angle portion of the detachment fault and rise vertically through the highly fissured hanging wall to the seafloor. The presence of abundant anhydrite in the cone on the summit of the TAG active mound and in veins in the crust beneath provides evidence for a fluid circulation system that entrains significant amounts of seawater into the shallow parts of the mound and stockwork. Given the importance of detachment faulting for crustal extension at slow spreading ridges, the fundamental question that still needs to be addressed is: How do detachment fault systems, and the structure at depth associated with these systems (e.g., presence of plutons and/or high permeability zones) influence the pattern of hydrothermal circulation, mineral deposition, and fluid chemistry, both in space and time, within slowly accreted ocean crust?

publication date

  • November 2015