Implications of metal dispersion from submarine hydrothermal systems for mineral exploration on mid-ocean ridges and in island arcs

Abstract

METAL enrichments in sediments on open ocean mid-ocean ridge segments and in island arcs have been known for some time1–4, but, to date, no deposits have been found which are rich in copper, zinc and other heavy metal sulphides to a degree comparable to those in the Red Sea. The fact that concentrated brines were thought to have played an essential role in the formation of the Red Sea metalliferous sediments may have inhibited the search for similar deposits elsewhere, because brines of the Red Sea type are unlikely to occur in the open ocean. The discovery at Matupi Harbour, New Britain, however, that high salinity is not a prerequisite for metal enrichment in hydrothermal solutions5, indicates that any area of submarine volcanic activity has a potential for high grade metalliferous sediment formation given suitable depositional conditions. In this report the dispersion of metals from submarine hydrothermal sources is discussed, and its usefulness in developing guidelines for undersea mineral exploration in volcanic areas is considered.

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