Modeling Crustal-Scale Hydrothermal Flows through a Seamount Network

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Rachel M Lauer, Andrew T Fisher and Dustin M Winslow, UC Santa Cruz, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Santa Cruz, CA, United States
The current study represents the first efforts to model 3D hydrothermal circulation in fast-spreading oceanic crust, using a network of outcrops patterned after a region of the Cocos plate offshore Costa Rica, where heat extraction is exceptionally high, resulting in heat flow values ~30% of those predicted by conductive lithospheric cooling models. Previous studies of this region attribute the heat deficit to vigorous hydrothermal circulation through basaltic basement outcrops that provide a hydraulic connection between the igneous oceanic crust and the seafloor, resulting in efficient mining of heat by large-scale lateral fluid flow. Seafloor bathymetry indicates that outcrops in this region are spaced 20-50-km apart, although there are likely additional unmapped structures that facilitate recharge and discharge of hydrothermal fluids. The modeled outcrop network consists of 20-km and 40-km square grids, with outcrops located at the corners. We vary the number, size, permeability, and orientation of the outcrops to consider what combination of these parameters achieve the observed pattern and/or quantity of heat loss. Additionally, we consider the effect of aquifer permeability and thickness on the modeled heat flow distribution.

Model results suggest that extremely high aquifer permeability is required to match the observed heat loss and low heat flow, together with a heterogeneous outcrop permeability distribution. In particular, we find that an aquifer permeability of 10-9 m2 is required to achieve the measured heat flow distribution in this region, which estimates a mean value of 29 ±13 mW/m2 in areas of flat lying basement, overlain by 400-500-m of sediment. In addition to high aquifer permeability, heterogeneous outcrop permeability is required to initiate the hydraulic connection between outcrops, with higher permeability outcrops acting as recharge sites, and lower permeability outcrops as discharge sites.