Sea-Floor Hydrothermal Systems

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Journal Article: Sea-Floor Hydrothermal Systems

The discovery of seafloor hydrothermal systems approximately two decades ago has led to a major reassessment of the Earth's thermal and geochemical budgets and has revolutionized our understanding of biological processes. This review traces the development of the study of seafloor hydrothermal systems from the indirect evidence provided by conductive heat flow anomalies to the discovery of approximate to 350 degrees C black smoker vents on the East Pacific Rise at 21 degrees N. Although the review focuses on physical characteristics and processes, it outlines some key characteristics of vent fluid chemistry that provide constraints on physical models. Ridge crest systems have thermal power outputs ranging from 10 to 10(4) MW. They are transient systems, driven by magmatic heat sources, but episodic events such as megaplumes, the interplay between focused and diffuse venting, and other aspects related to their thermal, chemical, and biological evolution remain poorly understood. Advances will be made by continuing exploration and discovery to determine the full range of possible phenomena both on and off axis and in different tectonic settings. In order to understand the complete, integrated ridge system, however, future studies must include long-term monitoring of an active system, deep drilling into the reaction zone, and mathematical modeling that incorporates both physical and chemical constraints.

R. P. Lowell, P. A. Rona and R. P. Vonherzen

Published Journal 
Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth, 1995

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R. P. Lowell,P. A. Rona,R. P. Vonherzen. 1995. Sea-Floor Hydrothermal Systems. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth. (!) .