Time-series temperature measurements at high-temperature hydrothermal vents, East Pacific Rise 9°49'-51'N: Evidence for monitoring a crustal cracking event

D. J. Fornari, T. Shank, K. L. Von Damm, T. K.P. Gregg, M. Lilley, G. Levai, A. Bray, R. M. Haymon, M. R. Perfit, R. Lutz

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Temperature measurements of hydrothermal vent fluids provide an important indicator of the physical and chemical state of mid-ocean ridge crest hydrothermal and magmatic systems. Changes in vent fluid temperature and chemistry can have dramatic effects on biological communities that inhabit these unique ecosystems. In an attempt to understand temporal variability of ridge crest hydrothermal activity as it relates to geological processes at the ridge axis, six high-temperature hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise crest between 9°49'N and 9°51'N were instrumented and sampled repeatedly during five years following a submarine volcanic eruption in 1991. Bio9 vent, located on the floor of the axial trough near 9°50.2'N, has the most complete record of fluid temperatures from 1991 to 1997, including a continuous temperature record of nearly three years (1994-1997). Bio9 vent fluids were 368°C in 1991, increased to an estimated temperature ≥388°C after a second volcanic event in 1992, and thereafter declined over the next ~2 years reaching a temperature of 365°C in December 1993. Continuous temperature records and point measurements made by Alvin's thermocouple probe show Bio9 vent fluids were stable for ~15 months at 365 ± 1°C, until March 26, 1995. On March 26, an abrupt 7°C increase occurred over a period of eight days at this vent, and a maximum temperature of 372 ± 1°C persisted for 14 days. The vent fluid cooled gradually over ~3.5 months to 366 ± 1°C, and for several months at the end of the recording period the temperature increased a few degrees. A continuous record of fluid temperature at this vent between November 1995 and November 1997 shows a 5 ± 1°C increase for the two-year period. The abrupt temperature increase at Bio9 vent, and coincident changes in faunal community structure, and geochemistry of vent fluids from this area suggest that a crustal event occurred, either in the form of a cracking front in the crust or intrusion of a small dike. Based on the results of a microseismicity experiment conducted around the Bio9 vent in 1995 [Sohn et al., Trans. Am. Geophys. Union 78 (1997) F647; Sohn et al., Nature (in press)], and the identification of a small earthquake swarm which occurred on March 22, 1995 we conclude that the temperature anomaly measured at Bio9 four days following the swarm was caused by a cracking front penetrating into hot crustal rocks beneath the vent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-431
Number of pages13
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Aug 1 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Black smoker
  • East Pacific Rise
  • Hydrothermal processes
  • Hydrothermal vent
  • Mid-ocean ridge
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Temperature

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