Hydrothermal Chimney Distribution from AUV Sentry bathymetry and Alvin at the Galapagos Spreading Center

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Avery Jonathan Lee and Scott M White, University of South Carolina Columbia, Columbia, SC, United States
Drivers of hydrothermal venting at mid-ocean ridges are crustal permeability and heat derived from magma, but their relative contributions remain enigmatic, thus raising the question why vents occur where they do. Currently, observational data are ambiguous and biased toward actively venting sites. However, new AUV Sentry bathymetric data from the 92W segment of the Galapagos Spreading Center from the 2010 GRUVEE expedition provide 0.5 m gridded maps that resolve individual chimneys, at least 2m tall and 0.75 m wide, directly. Comparing chimney features from the 23 vents found in the Alvin video with the AUV Sentry bathymetry establishes criteria that allow many other vents to be identified in our study area using only bathymetric data and without need for direct visual observation. Thus, we have a nearly complete record of both active and inactive hydrothermal chimneys over the entire length of a mid-ocean ridge segment to correlate with other seafloor features for further analysis. We use lava morphology, extent of mapped lava flow units, and volcanic features such as tumuli and pillow mounds as proxies for volcanic heat. Magmatic heat input, on a longer timescale, may be estimated by using seismic data on the thickness of layer 2A, depth to the magma lens, or crustal thickness as proxies. For permeability proxies, over 350 fault segments and 150+ fissures have been cataloged on this segment. By analyzing the locations of all these features relative to hydrothermal chimneys, it is possible to correlate crustal permeability and lava morphology with the distribution of vents and to provide empirical constraints on whether certain types of seafloor terrain are more conducive to hosting hydrothermal chimneys. Preliminary analysis suggests a strong correlation between chimneys and nearby mounds and major faults. All 23 chimneys seen with Alvin, inactive and active, are within 30 m of mounds. Considering both chimneys seen from Alvin and a partial catalog of those only detected by Sentry bathymetry, they appear aligned with major faults that comprise the axial summit graben boundaries.