Rapid growth of mineral deposits at artificial seafloor hydrothermal vents
AuthorsTatsuo Nozaki, Jun-Ichiro Ishibashi, Kazuhiko Shimada, Toshiro Nagase, Yutaro Takaya, Yasuhiro Kato, Shinsuke Kawagucci, Tomoo Watsuji, Takazo Shibuya, Ryoichi Yamada, Tomokazu Saruhashi, Masanori Kyo & Ken Takai
Seafloor massive sulphide deposits are potential resources for base and precious metals (Cu-Pb-Zn ± Ag ± Au), but difficulties in estimating precise reserves and assessing environmental impacts hinder exploration and commercial mining. Here, we report petrological and geochemical properties of sulphide chimneys less than 2 years old that formed where scientific boreholes vented hydrothermal fluids in the Iheya-North field, Okinawa Trough, in East China Sea. One of these infant chimneys, dominated by Cu-Pb-Zn-rich sulphide minerals, grew a height of 15 m within 25 months. Portions of infant chimneys are dominated by sulphate minerals. Some infant chimneys are sulphide-rich similar to high-grade Cu-Pb-Zn bodies on land, albeit with relatively low As and Sb concentrations. The high growth rate reaching the 15 m height within 25 months is attributed to the large hydrothermal vent more than 50 cm in diameter created by the borehole, which induced slow mixing with the ambient seawater and enhanced efficiency of sulphide deposition. These observations suggest the possibility of cultivating seafloor sulphide deposits and even controlling their growth and grades through manipulations of how to mix and quench hydrothermal fluids with the ambient seawater.