Evidence for the interaction between seawater and lava during emplacement on the deep seafloor can be observed in solidified flows at a variety of scales including rapid quenching of their outer crusts and the formation of lava pillars through the body of the flow. Recently, an additional interaction, incorporation of heated seawater (vapor) into the body of a flow, has been proposed. Large voids and vesicles beneath the surface crusts of mid-ocean ridge crest lobate and sheet lava flows and lava drips found within those cavities have been cited as evidence for this interaction. The voids resulting from this interaction contribute to the high porosity of the shallow ocean crust and play an important role in crustal permeability and hydrothermal circulation at mid-ocean ridges, and thus it is important to understand their origin. We analyze lava samples from the fast-spreading East Pacific Rise and intermediate-spreading Galapagos Spreading Center to characterize this process, identify the source of the vapor, and investigate the implications this would have on submarine lava flow dynamics. We find that lava samples that have interacted with a vapor have a zone of increased vesicularity on the underside of the lava crust and a coating of precipitate minerals (i.e., crystal fringe) that are distinct in form and composition from those crystallized from the melt. We use thermochemical modeling to simulate the reaction between the lava and a vapor and find that only with seawater can we reproduce the phase assemblage we observe within the crystal fringes present in the samples. Model results suggest that large-scale contamination of the lava by mass exchange with the vapor is unlikely, but we observe local enrichment of the lava in Cl resulting from the incorporation of a brine phase separated from the seawater. We suggest that high eruption rates are necessary for seawater incorporation to occur, but the mechanism by which seawater enters the flow has yet to be resolved. A persistent vapor phase may be important in inhibiting the collapse of lava flow roofs during natural waxing and waning of lava levels during emplacement allowing lava pathways to be maintained during long lived eruptions. In addition, we illustrate the potential for a persistent vapor layer to increase local flow rates within submarine flows by up to a factor of three, thereby influencing how lava is distributed across the ridge crest. ?? 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Incorporation of seawater into mid-ocean ridge lava flows during emplacement