The Role of Siliceous Hydrothermal Breccias in the Genesis of Volcanic Massive Sulphide Deposits – Ancient and Recent Systems

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Isabel Amaral Costa1,2, Fernando JAS Barriga2 and Yves Fouquet3, (1)Instituto Politécnico Setúbal, Escola Superior Tecnologia Barreiro, Barreiro, Portugal, (2)Faculty of Sciences, Lisbon University, Geology, Lisbon, Portugal, (3)IFREMER, REM / Géosciences Marines, Plouzané, France
Siliceous hydrothermal breccias were sampled in two Mid-Atlantic Ridge active sites: Lucky Strike and Menez Gwen. These hydrothermal fields are located in the border of the Azorean plateau, southwest of the Azores islands where the alteration processes affecting basaltic rocks are prominent (Costa et al., 2003). The hydrothermal breccias are genetically related with the circulation of low temperature hydrothermal fluids in diffuse vents. The groundmass of these breccias precipitates from the fluid and consolidates the clastic fragments mostly composed of basalt. The main sources are the surrounding volcanic hills.

Breccias are found near hydrothermal vents and may play an important role in the protection of subseafloor hydrothermal deposits forming an impermeable cap due to the high content in siliceous material. The amorphous silica tends to precipitate when the fluid is conductively cooled as proposed by Fouquet et al. (1998) after Fournier (1983). The process evolves gradually from an initial stage where we have just the fragments and circulating seawater. The ascending hydrothermal fluid mixes with seawater, which favours the precipitation of the sulphide components. Sealing of the initially loose fragments begins, the temperature rises below this crust, and the processes of mixing fluid circulation and conductive cooling are simultaneous. At this stage the fluid becomes oversaturated with respect to amorphous silica. This form of silica can precipitate in the open spaces of the porous sulphides and seal the system. Normally this can happen at low temperatures. At this stage the hydrothermal breccia is formed creating a progressively less permeable, eventually impermeable cap rock at the surface. Once the fluid is trapped under this impermeable layer, conductive cooling is enhanced and mixing with seawater is restricted, making the precipitation of amorphous silica more efficient.

Since the first discovery and description of recent mineralized submarine hydrothermal deposits, comparison with ancient volcanic massive sulphide deposits is appropriate. The proposed model can explain some of the processes taking place in the early phase of formation of old deposits where equivalent siliceous material is found in the hanging wall of the ore bodies (e.g. Barriga and Fyfe, 1988).