A Tiburon ROV dive within the East Blanco Depression (EBD) increased the mapped extent of a known hydrothermal field by an order of magnitude. In addition, a unique opal-CT (cristobalite-tridymite)-hematite mound was discovered, and mineralized sediments and rock were collected and analyzed. Silica-hematite mounds have not previously been found on the deep ocean floor. The light-weight rock of the porous mound consists predominantly of opal-CT and hematite filaments, rods, and strands, and averages 77.8% SiO2 and 11.8% Fe2O3. The hematite and opal-CT precipitated from a low-temperature (???115?? C), strongly oxidized, silica- and iron-rich, sulfur-poor hydrothermal fluid; a bacterial mat provided the framework for precipitation. Samples collected from a volcaniclastic rock outcrop consist primarily of quartz with lesser plagioclase, smectite, pyroxene, and sulfides; SiO2 content averages 72.5%. Formation of these quartz-rich samples is best explained by cooling in an up-flow zone of silica-rich hydrothermal fluids within a low permeability system. Opal-A, opal-CT, and quartz mineralization found in different places within the EBD hydrothermal field likely reflects decreasing silica saturation and increasing temperature of the mineralizing fluid with increasing silica crystallinity. Six push cores recovered gravel, coarse sand, and mud mineralized variously by Fe or Mn oxides, silica, and sulfides. Total rare-earth element concentrations are low for both the rock and push core samples. Ce and Eu anomalies reflect high and low temperature hydrothermal components and detrital phases. A remarkable variety of types of mineralization occur within the EBD field, yet a consistent suite of elements is enriched (relative to basalt and unmineralized cores) in all samples analyzed: Ag, Au, S, Mo, Hg, As, Sb, Sr, and U; most samples are also enriched in Cu, Pb, Cd, and Zn. On the basis of these element enrichments, the EBD hydrothermal field might best be described as a base- and precious-metal-bearing, silica-Fe-oxide-barite deposit. Such deposits are commonly spatially and temporally associated with volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) ores. A plot of data for pathfinder elements shows a large hot spot at the northwestern margin of the field, which may mark a region where moderate to high temperature sulfide deposits are forming at depth; further exploration of the hydrothermal field to the northwest is warranted.
Additional publication details
Metalliferous sediment and a silica-hematite deposit within the Blanco fracture zone, Northeast Pacific