Size, Age, Distribution and Mass Accumulation Rates of Seafloor Hydrothermal Sulfide Deposits

Title: Size, Age, Distribution and Mass Accumulation Rates of Seafloor Hydrothermal Sulfide Deposits
Authors: Jamieson, John William
Date: 2013
Abstract: Hydrothermal discharge on the seafloor results in significant accumulation of base- and precious-metal-rich sulfide material. Technological advances as well as elevated metal prices have led to a growing interest in the direct mining of these deposits from the modern ocean floor. The research presented in this thesis details an investigation of the size, grades, distribution, and accumulation rates of these deposits on the seafloor. A three-part resource assessment, originally designed for land-based ore deposits, was used to generate a predictive framework for the global seafloor sulfide resource. Using detailed descriptions of sizes, grades and locations for 92 known deposits, a resource estimate was generated that predicts a total of ~1,000 deposits and a total global abundance of 600 Mt of sulfide within the neovolcanic zones of the modern ocean floor. A detailed study of the hydrothermal sulfide deposits along the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge was carried out to investigate the processes of sulfide accumulation at the ridge-segment scale. Results of 226Ra/Ba dating of barite within the deposits indicate that hydrothermal activity has been ongoing for ~6,000 years and venting has been continuous at the Main Endeavour and High Rise vent fields for ~2,300 and 850 years, respectively. Abundant older sulfide samples from inactive sites outside of the main vent fields indicate a complex history of venting along the ridge segment. Analysis of high-resolution bathymetry of the Endeavour Segment, generated from eight autonomous underwater vehicle surveys, revealed the location of 581 individual hydrothermal sulfide edifices along 15 km of ridge length. Using GIS-based software, the volume of each edifice was calculated, and the total amount of sulfide at Endeavour is estimated to be 1.2 Mt. This estimate is the first comprehensive resource evaluation on the seafloor at this scale. Sulfide has been accumulating within the Endeavour axial valley at a rate of ~400 tonnes per year, which is similar to estimates for the TAG deposit on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Using endmember hydrothermal fluid chemistry data and estimates of fluid discharge rates, the mass accumulation rate calculated for Endeavour corresponds to a sulfide depositional efficiency of 6%.
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