Controls of bathymetric relief on hydrothermal fluid flow at mid-ocean ridges



[1] We present quantitative modeling results for the effects of surface relief on hydrothermal convection at ocean-spreading centers investigating how vent site locations and subsurface flow patterns are affected by bathymetry induced sub-seafloor pressure variations. The model is based on a 2-D FEM solver for fluid flow in porous media and is used to simulate hydrothermal convection systematically in 375 synthetic studies. The results of these studies show that bathymetric relief has a profound effect on hydrothermal flow: bathymetric highs induce subsurface pressure variations that can deviate upwelling zones and favor venting at structural highs. The deviation angle from vertical upwelling can be expressed by a single linear dependence relating deviation angle to bathymetric slope and depth of the heat source. These findings are confirmed in two case studies for the East Pacific Rise at 9°30′N and Lucky Strike hydrothermal fields. In both cases, it is possible to predict the observed vent field locations only if bathymetry is taken into account. Our results thereby show that bathymetric relief should be considered in simulations of submarine hydrothermal systems and plays a key role especially in focusing venting of across axis hydrothermal flow onto the ridge axis of fast spreading ridges.