Fluid migration pathways, sediment subduction, and the source of fluids escaping along the forearc seafloor revealed offshore Nicaragua with marine electromagnetic data

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 4:45 PM
Samer Naif1, Kerry Key1, Steven Constable1 and Robert L Evans2, (1)Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, United States, (2)WHOI, Woods Hole, MA, United States
The subduction of sediments and hydrated oceanic plates transports the primary flux of water into the interior of the Earth. As an oceanic plate sinks, water is progressively released by compaction and chemical dehydration reactions, a significant fraction of which is released during the initial stages of subduction. In order to map the flux of fluids at the Middle America Trench, we collected marine magnetotelluric and controlled-source electromagnetic data along a 280-km profile that spans the offshore component of the Nicaraguan margin. Fluids and volatiles present in the crust and mantle can decrease the bulk electrical resistivity by up to several orders of magnitude, making electromagnetic methods an ideal exploration tool for quantifying fluids along convergent margins. Our joint two-dimensional electrical resistivity model provides new constraints on the cycling of fluids at crustal depths. We image a variety of conductive channels that are indicative of: (1) crustal hydration along bending-induced normal faults at the outer rise, (2) the complete subduction of water-rich sediments, and (3) the vertical migration of fluids from the plate interface to the forearc seafloor. We estimate porosity from electrical resistivity using Archie’s law to show that the porosity of the lower crust is increased by 115% at the outer rise compared with the abyssal plain, suggesting that more pore water is being subducted than previously thought. At the margin toe, we observe the porosity of the underthrust sediment layer to decay exponentially with increasing depth of burial to 10-km inland of the trench, which agrees well with laboratory studies of compaction driven porosity loss. At 23-km into the forearc, our data reveal an anomalous conductor that extends from the plate interface into the overlying forearc crust, terminating 1-2-km below a high density region of active fluid seeps and mud mounds that have previously been mapped. The temperature and pressure regime in the vicinity of the anomalous conductor suggests it arises from diagenetic dewatering of subducted sediment and/or upper crust material, providing a flux of additional water that may be the source of fluids escaping on the forearc seafloor.