Hydrothermal contributions to global biogeochemical cycles: Insights from the Macquarie Island ophiolite
Coggon, RM and Teagle, DAH and Harris, M and Davidson, GJ and Alt, JC and Brewer, TS, Hydrothermal contributions to global biogeochemical cycles: Insights from the Macquarie Island ophiolite, Lithos, 264 pp. 329-347. ISSN 0024-4937 (2016) [Refereed Article]
Hydrothermal circulation is a fundamental process in the formation and aging of the ocean crust, with the resultant chemical exchange between the crust and oceans comprising a key component of global biogeochemical cycles. Sections of hydrothermally altered ocean crust provide time-integrated records of this chemical exchange. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the nature and extent of hydrothermal exchange is limited by the absence of complete oceanic crustal sections from either submarine exposures or drill core. Sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island comprises ~ 10 Ma ocean crust formed at a slow spreading ridge, and is the only sub-aerial exposure of a complete section of ocean crust in the ocean basin in which it formed. Hydrothermally altered rocks from Macquarie Island therefore provide a unique opportunity to evaluate the chemical changes due to fluid–rock exchange through a complete section of ocean crust. Here we exploit the immobile behavior of some elements during hydrothermal alteration to determine the precursor compositions to altered Macquarie whole rock samples, and evaluate the changes in bulk rock chemistry due to fluid–rock interaction throughout the Macquarie crust. The extent to which elements are enriched or depleted in each sample depends upon the secondary mineral assemblage developed, and hence the modal abundances of the primary minerals in the rocks and the alteration conditions, such as temperature, fluid composition, and water:rock ratios. Consequently the chemical changes vary with depth, most notably within the lava–dike transition zone where enrichments in K, S, Rb, Ba, and Zn are observed. Our results indicate that hydrothermal alteration of the Macquarie crust resulted in a net flux of Si, Ti, Al, and Ca to the oceans, whereas the crust was a net sink for H2O, Mg, Na, K, and S. Our results also demonstrate the importance of including the contribution of elemental uptake by veins for some elements (e.g., Si, Fe, Mg, S). Extrapolation of our results, assuming a crustal production rate of 3 km2/yr, yields estimates of the hydrothermal contribution to global geochemical cycles. For example, the Mg flux to the crust is estimated to be 3.3 ± 1.1 × 1012 mol/year, sufficient to balance the riverine Mg input to the oceans given the uncertainties involved. However, the relationship between spreading rate and hydrothermal chemical exchange fluxes remains poorly understood, and the approach described here should be applied to crust produced at a range of spreading rates to refine the global hydrothermal flux estimates.
Ocean crust, Hydrothermal alteration, Biogeochemical cycles, Macquarie Island, Ophiolite