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Keywords:

  • hydrothermal circulation;
  • Juan de Fuca Ridge;
  • seafloor permeability;
  • Endeavour

[1] Hydrothermal systems at mid-ocean spreading centers play a fundamental role in Earth's geothermal budget. One underexamined facet of marine hydrothermal systems is the role that permeability of the uppermost seafloor veneer plays in the distribution of hydrothermal fluid. As both the initial and final vertical gateway for subsurface fluid circulation, uppermost seafloor permeability may influence the local spatial distribution of hydrothermal flow. A method of deriving a photomosaic from seafloor video was developed and utilized to estimate relative surface permeability in an active hydrothermal area on the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. The mosaic resolves seafloor geology of the axial valley seafloor at submeter resolution over an area greater than 1 km2. Results indicate that the valley walls and basal talus slope are topographically rugged and unsedimented, providing minimal resistance to fluid transmission. Elsewhere, the axial valley floor is capped by an unbroken blanket of low-permeability sediment, resisting fluid exchange with the subsurface reservoir. Active fluid emission sites were restricted to the high-permeability zone at the base of the western wall. A series of inactive fossil hydrothermal structures form a linear trend along the western bounding wall, oriented orthogonal to the spreading axis. High-temperature vent locations appear to have migrated over 100 m along-ridge-strike over the decade between surveys. While initially an expression of subsurface faulting, this spatial pattern suggests that increases in seafloor permeability from sedimentation may be at least a secondary contributing factor in regulating fluid flow across the seafloor interface.