Depth‐dependent permeability and heat output at basalt‐hosted hydrothermal systems across mid‐ocean ridge spreading rates
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionGeochemistry Geophysics Geosystems. 2018, 19 (4), 1259-1281 10.1002/2017GC007152
The permeability of the oceanic crust exerts a primary influence on the vigor of hydrothermal circulation at mid‐ocean ridges, but it is a difficult to measure parameter that varies with time, space, and geological setting. Here we develop an analytical model for the poroelastic response of hydrothermal exit‐fluid velocities and temperatures to ocean tidal loading in a two‐layered medium to constrain the discharge zone permeability of each layer. The top layer, corresponding to extrusive lithologies (e.g., seismic layer 2A) overlies a lower permeability layer, corresponding to intrusive lithologies (e.g., layer 2B). We apply the model to three basalt‐hosted hydrothermal fields (i.e., Lucky Strike, Main Endeavour and 9°46′N L‐vent) for which the seismic stratigraphy is well‐established, and for which robust exit‐fluid temperature data are available. We find that the poroelastic response to tidal loading is primarily controlled by layer 2A permeability, which is about 3 orders of magnitude higher for the Lucky Strike site (∼10−10 m2) than the 9°46′N L‐vent site (∼10−13 m2). By contrast, layer 2B permeability does not exert a strong control on the poroelastic response to tidal loading, yet strongly modulates the heat output of hydrothermal discharge zones. Taking these constraints into account, we estimate a plausible range of layer 2B permeability between ∼10−15 m2 and an upper‐bound value of ∼10−14 (9°46′N L‐vent) to ∼10−12 m2 (Lucky Strike). These permeability structures reconcile the short‐term response and long‐term thermal output of hydrothermal sites, and provide new insights into the links between permeability and tectono‐magmatic processes along the global mid‐ocean ridge.