Insights into Magmatic-Hydrothermal Processes in the Newly-Discovered Seafloor Massive Sulfide Deposits of the New Hebrides Arc-Backarc System, SW Pacific

Friday, 19 December 2014
Melissa O Anderson1, Mark D Hannington1,2, Karsten M Haase3, Ulrich Schwarz-Schampera4 and Tim McConachy5, (1)University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada, (2)GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Kiel, Germany, (3)University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Erlangen, Germany, (4)BGR Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, Hannover, Germany, (5)Neptune Minerals Inc., Sydney, Australia
Magmatic processes leading to hydrothermal venting and the controls on the distribution of vents at two locations along the New Hebrides arc-backarc system are being revealed by new bathymetric data and geological maps interpreted from remotely operated vehicle dive videos.

The Nifonea volcanic complex spans the width of the Vate Trough, a nascent backarc basin located ~50 km to the east of the New Hebrides arc. Hydrothermal activity occurs in the caldera at the summit of Nifonea at a water depth of ~1875 m. A NW-trending eruptive fissure cuts through the center of the caldera near the area of active venting. This fissure is associated with isolated pillow mounds and collapse features along its length, and is the source of extensive jumbled sheet flows that cover the caldera floor. Low-temperature, diffuse venting is widespread; active black smoker chimneys are localized on and around the pillow mounds, in clusters of ~20 x 20 m and growing directly on the flows. The impression is that the hydrothermal venting is young and not yet “organized,” in large part because of the eruptive style dominated by collapsed sheet flows.

The Tinakula seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) deposit is located in a much shallower (~1150 m), extended arc-backarc setting at the northern end of the New Hebrides arc, ~25 km from the arc front. Chimney fields occur along two corridors, and are associated with volcanic mounds and calderas. The eastern field occupies an area of ~1200 x 200 m, and the western sulfide field is ~500 x 100 m in size. The density of chimneys appears to be largely controlled by permeability of the volcanic facies, which are dominated by autoclastic and hyaloclastic breccias. Tinakula has been commercially drilled, offering insight into the third dimension of the system.

This is one of the first studies of SMS deposits in the New Hebrides arc and fills a ‘knowledge gap’ in the occurrence of seafloor hydrothermal systems in arc-related settings of the Melanesian archipelago.