Hybrid shallow on-axis and deep off-axis hydrothermal circulation at fast spreading ridges

Joerg Hasenclever, Sonja Theissen-Krah, Lars H. Rüpke, Jason Morgan, Karthik Iyer, Sven Petersen, Colin W. Devey

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Hydrothermal flow at oceanic spreading centres accounts for about ten per cent of all heat flux in the oceans1,2 and controls the thermal structure of young oceanic plates. It also influences ocean and crustal chemistry, provides a basis for chemosynthetic ecosystems, and has formed massive sulphide ore deposits throughout Earth ́s history. Despite this, how and under what conditions heat is extracted, in particular from the lower crust, remains largely unclear. Here we present high-resolution, whole-crust, two- and three-dimensional simulations of hydrothermal flow beneath fast spreading ridges that predict the existence of two interacting flow components, controlled by different physical mechanisms, that merge above the melt lens to feed ridge-centred vent sites. Shallow on-axis flow structures develop owing to the thermodynamic properties of water, whereas
deeper off-axis flow is strongly shaped by crustal permeability, particularly the brittle–ductile transition. About 60 per cent of the discharging fluid mass is replenished on-axis by warm (up to 300 degrees Celsius) recharge flow surrounding the hot thermal plumes, and the remaining 40 per cent or so occurs as colder and broader recharge up to several kilometres away from the axis that feeds hot (500-700 degrees Celsius) deep-rooted off-axis flow towards the ridge. Despite its lower contribution to the total mass flux, this deep off-axis flow carries ~70 per cent of the thermal energy released at the ridge axis. This combination of two flow components explains the seismically determined thermal structure of the crust and reconcile previously incompatible models favouring either shallower on-axis3-5 or deeper off-axis hydrothermal circulation6-8.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)508-512
Number of pages5
Early online date23 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2014


  • geodynamics
  • hydrology
  • volcanology
  • computational science

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