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Diverse styles of submarine venting on the ultraslow spreading Mid-Cayman Rise

2010-06-24 , German, Christopher R. , Bowen, Andrew D. , Coleman, Max , Honig, D. L. , Huber, Julie A. , Jakuba, Michael V. , Kinsey, James C. , Kurz, Mark D. , Leroy, S. , McDermott, Jill M. , Mercier de Lepinay, B. , Nakamura, Ko-ichi , Seewald, Jeffrey S. , Smith, J. L. , Sylva, Sean P. , Van Dover, Cindy L. , Whitcomb, Louis L. , Yoerger, Dana R.

Thirty years after the first discovery of high-temperature submarine venting, the vast majority of the global Mid Ocean Ridge remains unexplored for hydrothermal activity. Of particular interest are the world’s ultra-slow spreading ridges which were the last to be demonstrated to host high-temperature venting, but may host systems particularly relevant to pre-biotic chemistry and the origins of life. Here we report first evidence for diverse and very deep hydrothermal vents along the ~110 km long, ultra-slow spreading Mid-Cayman Rise. Our data indicate that the Mid- Cayman Rise hosts at least three discrete hydrothermal sites, each representing a different type of water-rock interaction, including both mafic and ultra-mafic systems and, at ~5000 m, the deepest known hydrothermal vent. Although submarine hydrothermal circulation, in which seawater percolates through and reacts with host lithologies, occurs on all mid-ocean ridges, the diversity of vent-types identified here and their relative geographic isolation make the Mid-Cayman Rise unique in the oceans. These new sites offer prospects for: an expanded range of vent-fluid compositions; varieties of abiotic organic chemical synthesis and extremophile microorganisms; and unparalleled faunal biodiversity - all in close proximity.