THE Sea Cliff hydrothermal field, on the northern Gorda Ridge, contains mounds and chimneys of hydrothermally precipitated sulphide and sulphate minerals typical of sea-floor hydrothermal vent sites1. In addition, large areas of the sea floor are covered by subhorizontal hydrothermal crusts. Samples of the crust recovered by submersible are composed of intensely altered fragments of basalt and basaltic hyaloclastite cemented by amorphous silica and chalcedony with less abundant barite, and minor amounts of base-metal sulphide minerals2. Some surfaces of the crust were formerly colonized by bacterial mats, which are locally preserved by replacement and overgrowth of the bacterial filaments by metal sulphide minerals and amorphous silica. The bacterial filaments are selectively replaced by prousite (Ag3AsS3), pearceite3 (Ag14.7-XCu1.3+xAs2S11), chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) and rarely by galena (PbS). Our observations suggest that bacterially mediated processes selectively precipitate silver, arsenic and copper, and that biological processes may contribute to precious-metal enrichment in some sea-floor hydrothermal base-metal sulphide deposits.
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Microbial control of silver mineralization at a sea-floor hydrothermal site on the northern Gorda Ridge