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Large variations in vent fluid CO2/3He ratios signal rapid changes in magma chemistry at Loihi seamount, Hawaii


Loihi seamount, an active submarine volcano situated about 30 km south of the island of Hawaii, is the youngest manifestation of the hotspot responsible for the Emperor–Hawaiian seamount chain and Hawaiian islands. This seamount has been the focus of numerous studies characterizing the geophysical, geochemical and biological features of an active intraplate volcano1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14. In July–August 1996, Loihi seamount experienced the most intense period of seismic activity yet recorded for any Hawaiian volcano1. Within two months of the ‘seismic crisis’, summit and flank hydrothermal vent fluids were collected using a manned submersible. Here we report data from these samples that indicate large and systematic changes in the CO2/3He ratios of the vent fluids compared to pre-seismic-crisis values2,3. These changes are consistent with an abrupt transition from alkalic to tholeiitic basaltic magma having supplied volatiles to the vents. This rapid change in magma chemistry has been discernible only through CO2/3He monitoring, and suggests that the anticipated evolution of the Hawaiian plume to a phase of shield-building tholeiitic magmatism is highly episodic at Loihi and not yet complete.

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Figure 1: Bathymetry of Loihi seamount following the seismic crisis of July–August 1996.
Figure 2: Helium isotope ratios versus CO2/He ratios.


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We thank F. Duennebier and J. R. Smith for Fig. 1, and B. Eakins, M. Cremer and D.Counce for laboratory assistance. We also thank T. Kerby and the HURL operations staff forhelp at sea. Discussions with M. O. Garcia and C. G. Macpherson proved very helpful. This work was funded by the NOAA Sea Grant College and National Undersea Research Programs (to G.M.M.) and SIO “start-up” funds (to D.R.H.).

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Correspondence to D. R. Hilton.

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Hilton, D., McMurtry, G. & Goff, F. Large variations in vent fluid CO2/3He ratios signal rapid changes in magma chemistry at Loihi seamount, Hawaii. Nature 396, 359–362 (1998).

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