Discovery of abundant hydrothermal venting on the ultraslow-spreading Gakkel ridge in the Arctic Ocean

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Submarine hydrothermal venting along mid-ocean ridges is an important contributor to ridge thermal structure1, and the global distribution of such vents has implications for heat and mass fluxes2 from the Earth's crust and mantle and for the biogeography of vent-endemic organisms.3 Previous studies have predicted that the incidence of hydrothermal venting would be extremely low on ultraslow-spreading ridges (ridges with full spreading rates <2 cm yr-1—which make up 25 per cent of the global ridge length), and that such vent systems would be hosted in ultramafic in addition to volcanic rocks4,5. Here we present evidence for active hydrothermal venting on the Gakkel ridge, which is the slowest spreading (0.6–1.3 cm yr-1) and least explored mid-ocean ridge. On the basis of water column profiles of light scattering, temperature and manganese concentration along 1,100 km of the rift valley, we identify hydrothermal plumes dispersing from at least nine to twelve discrete vent sites. Our discovery of such abundant venting, and its apparent localization near volcanic centres, requires a reassessment of the geologic conditions that control hydrothermal circulation on ultraslow-spreading ridges.

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Figure 1: Map of survey area, indicating stations occupied by USCGC Healy and PFS Polarstern during the AMORE (Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge Expedition) cruise at which MAPR profiles were obtained. (Also shown are 1,000-m depth contours from the International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean.) MAPRs were deployed above 97 dredges, 19 wax cores, and 6 CTDs from Healy, and 28 TV-grabs, a heat-flow probe, and a camera tow from Polarstern.
Figure 2: AMORE multibeam bathymetry of the volcanic area near 85° E, with AMORE station locations.
Figure 3: Light scattering and temperature data from the 85° E area, along the track indicated in Fig. 2.
Figure 4: Light-scattering sensor and total dissolvable manganese (TDMn) data from AMORE CTD stations 5 and 9.


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We thank all the members of the AMORE science party for their assistance, and the officers and crews of the USCGC Healy and PFS Polarstern for their logistical and technical support. We also thank S. Walker for assistance with MAPR support and Fig. 3. This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation, the US NOAA Vents Program, a Heisenberg fellowship to J.E.S. from the Deutscheforschungsgemeinschaft, and W. S. Gardner and the University of Texas at Austin.

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Correspondence to H. N. Edmonds.

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Edmonds, H., Michael, P., Baker, E. et al. Discovery of abundant hydrothermal venting on the ultraslow-spreading Gakkel ridge in the Arctic Ocean. Nature 421, 252–256 (2003) doi:10.1038/nature01351

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