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Hydrothermal activity along the southwest Indian ridge


Twenty years after the discovery of sea-floor hot springs, vast stretches of the global mid-ocean-ridge system remain unexplored for hydrothermal venting. The southwest Indian ridge is a particularly intriguing region, as it is both the slowest-spreading of the main ridges1 and the sole modern migration pathway between the diverse vent fauna of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans2. A recent model postulates that a linear relation exists between vent frequency and spreading rate3 and predicts vent fields to be scarcest along the slowest-spreading ridge sections, thus impeding migration and enhancing faunal diversity2. Here, however, we report evidence of hydrothermal plumes at six locations within two 200-km-long sections of the southwest Indian ridge indicating a higher frequency of venting than expected. These results suggest that fluxes of heat and chemicals from slow-spreading ridges may be greater than previously thought and that faunal migration along the southwest Indian ridge may serve as an important corridor for gene-flow between Pacific and Atlantic hydrothermal fields.

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Figure 1: Regional map of the southwest Indian ridge (SWIR) spreading centre.
Figure 2: Bathymetric maps of the SWIR study areas.
Figure 3: Cross-sections of plume 2, centred at 4,100–4,200 m water depth (grey shaded band), as detected from MAPRs arrayed along the tow cable above and below the side-scan vehicle TOBI.


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We thank S. Walker (NOAA/PMEL) for her assistance in development of the MAPR instruments and the Captain, crew and IFRTP team of the RV Marion Dufresne who contributed to the success of this project. The FUJI cruise was co-funded by IFRTP (France) and The Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture (Japan). TOBI support was funded through the EC TMR Grant: European Access to Seafloor Survey Systems (EASSS) whilst hydrothermal research was supported by NERC and the SOC (UK) and by the NOAA-Vents program (USA).

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German, C., Baker, E., Mevel, C. et al. Hydrothermal activity along the southwest Indian ridge. Nature 395, 490–493 (1998).

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