To characterize mercury (Hg) isotopes and isotopic fractionation in hydrothermal systems we analyzed fluid and precipitate samples from hot springs in the Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field and vent chimney samples from the Guaymas Basin sea-floor rift. These samples provide an initial indication of the variability in Hg isotopic composition among marine and continental hydrothermal systems that are controlled predominantly by mantle-derived magmas. Fluid samples from Ojo Caliente hot spring in Yellowstone range in δ202Hg from - 1.02‰ to 0.58‰ (± 0.11‰, 2SD) and solid precipitate samples from Guaymas Basin range in δ202Hg from - 0.37‰ to - 0.01‰ (± 0.14‰, 2SD). Fluid samples from Ojo Caliente display mass-dependent fractionation (MDF) of Hg from the vent (δ202Hg = 0.10‰ ± 0.11‰, 2SD) to the end of the outflow channel (&delta202Hg = 0.58‰ ± 0.11‰, 2SD) in conjunction with a decrease in Hg concentration from 46.6pg/g to 20.0pg/g. Although a small amount of Hg is lost from the fluids due to co-precipitation with siliceous sinter, we infer that the majority of the observed MDF and Hg loss from waters in Ojo Caliente is due to volatilization of Hg0(aq) to Hg0(g) and the preferential loss of Hg with a lower δ202Hg value to the atmosphere. A small amount of mass-independent fractionation (MIF) was observed in all samples from Ojo Caliente (Δ199Hg = 0.13‰ ±1 0.06‰, 2SD) but no significant MIF was measured in the sea-floor rift samples from Guaymas Basin. This study demonstrates that several different hydrothermal processes fractionate Hg isotopes and that Hg isotopes may be used to better understand these processes.
Additional publication details
Mercury isotopic composition of hydrothermal systems in the Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field and Guaymas Basin sea-floor rift