Letter | Published:

Hydrothermal activity and metallogenesis in the Lau back-arc basin

Abstract

IN 1989, the submersible Nautile discovered one of the most active hydrothermal fields on the modern ocean floor, in the Lau back-arc basin (Fig. 1). The field contains high-temperature white and black smokers, and as we report here, its characteristics contrast strongly with those of the hydrothermal fields found at normal mid-ocean ridges. The main differences are the acidity (pH as low as 2), chemistry and temperature (up to 400 °C) of the hydrothermal fluids, the composition of the ore deposits, and the volcanic and tectonic environments. The fluids also have very high concentrations of trace metals, and primary gold is present in the accompanying mineral deposits. Our data show that these back-arc deposits in the Lau Basin are intermediate between typical mid-ocean-ridge mineralization and massive sulphide deposits of the Kuroko type.

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