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Concept: Geological processes


In the austral summer of 2011 we undertook an investigation of three volcanic highs in the Central Bransfield Basin, Antarctica, in search of hydrothermal activity and associated fauna to assess changes since previous surveys and to evaluate the extent of hydrothermalism in this basin. At Hook Ridge, a submarine volcanic edifice at the eastern end of the basin, anomalies in water column redox potential (E(h)) were detected close to the seafloor, unaccompanied by temperature or turbidity anomalies, indicating low-temperature hydrothermal discharge. Seepage was manifested as shimmering water emanating from the sediment and from mineralised structures on the seafloor; recognisable vent endemic fauna were not observed. Pore fluids extracted from Hook Ridge sediment were depleted in chloride, sulfate and magnesium by up to 8% relative to seawater, enriched in lithium, boron and calcium, and had a distinct strontium isotope composition ((87)Sr/(86)Sr  = 0.708776 at core base) compared with modern seawater ((87)Sr/(86)Sr ≈0.70918), indicating advection of hydrothermal fluid through sediment at this site. Biogeochemical zonation of redox active species implies significant moderation of the hydrothermal fluid with in situ diagenetic processes. At Middle Sister, the central ridge of the Three Sisters complex located about 100 km southwest of Hook Ridge, small water column E(h) anomalies were detected but visual observations of the seafloor and pore fluid profiles provided no evidence of active hydrothermal circulation. At The Axe, located about 50 km southwest of Three Sisters, no water column anomalies in E(h), temperature or turbidity were detected. These observations demonstrate that the temperature anomalies observed in previous surveys are episodic features, and suggest that hydrothermal circulation in the Bransfield Strait is ephemeral in nature and therefore may not support vent biota.

Concepts: Water, Fluid dynamics, Calcium, Physical oceanography, Liquid, Fluid, Hydrothermal vent, Geological processes


Most seafloor hydrothermal circulation occurs far from the magmatic influence of mid-ocean ridges, driving large flows of water, heat and solutes through volcanic rock outcrops on ridge flanks. Here we create three-dimensional simulations of ridge-flank hydrothermal circulation, flowing between and through seamounts, to determine what controls hydrogeological sustainability, flow rate and preferred flow direction in these systems. We find that sustaining flow between outcrops that penetrate less-permeable sediment depends on a contrast in transmittance (the product of outcrop permeability and the area of outcrop exposure) between recharging and discharging sites, with discharge favoured through less-transmissive outcrops. Many simulations include local discharge through outcrops at the recharge end of an outcrop-to-outcrop system. Both of these characteristics are observed in the field. In addition, smaller discharging outcrops sustain higher flow rates than larger outcrops, which may help to explain how so much lithospheric heat is extracted globally by this process.

Concepts: Physical oceanography, Rock, Volumetric flow rate, Magma, Basalt, Granite, Mid-ocean ridge, Geological processes


The deeply eroded West Gondwana Orogen is a major continental collision zone that exposes numerous occurrences of deeply subducted rocks, such as eclogites. The position of these eclogites marks the suture zone between colliding cratons, and the age of metamorphism constrains the transition from subduction-dominated tectonics to continental collision and mountain building. Here we investigate the metamorphic conditions and age of high-pressure and ultrahigh-pressure eclogites from Mali, Togo and NE-Brazil and demonstrate that continental subduction occurred within 20 million years over at least a 2,500-km-long section of the orogen during the Ediacaran. We consider this to be the earliest evidence of large-scale deep-continental subduction and consequent appearance of Himalayan-scale mountains in the geological record. The rise and subsequent erosion of such mountains in the Late Ediacaran is perfectly timed to deliver sediments and nutrients that are thought to have been necessary for the subsequent evolution of sustainable life on Earth.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Sedimentary rock, Geology, Metamorphic rock, Subduction, Orogeny, Geological processes


The underthrusting of continental crust during mountain building is an issue of debate for orogens at convergent continental margins. We report three-dimensional seismic anisotropic tomography of Taiwan that shows a nearly 90° rotation of anisotropic fabrics across a 10- to 20-kilometer depth, consistent with the presence of two layers of deformation. The upper crust is dominated by collision-related compressional deformation, whereas the lower crust of Taiwan, mostly the crust of the subducted Eurasian plate, is dominated by convergence-parallel shear deformation. We interpret this lower crustal shearing as driven by the continuous sinking of the Eurasian mantle lithosphere when the surface of the subducted plate is coupled with the orogen. The two-layer deformation clearly defines the role of subduction in the formation of the Taiwan mountain belt.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Lithosphere, Crust, Subduction, Convergent boundary, Orogeny, Geological processes


Axial melt lenses sandwiched between the lower oceanic crust and the sheeted dike sequences at fast-spreading mid-ocean ridges are assumed to be the major magma source of oceanic crust accretion. According to the widely discussed “gabbro glacier” model, the formation of the lower oceanic crust requires efficient cooling of the axial melt lens, leading to partial crystallization and crystal-melt mush subsiding down to lower crust. These processes are believed to be controlled by periodical magma replenishment and hydrothermal circulation above the melt lens. Here we quantify the cooling rate above melt lens using chemical zoning of plagioclase from hornfelsic recrystallized sheeted dikes drilled from the East Pacific at the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Hole 1256D. We estimate the cooling rate using a forward modelling approach based on CaAl-NaSi interdiffusion in plagioclase. The results show that cooling from the peak thermal overprint at 1000-1050°C to 600°C are yielded within about 10-30 years as a result of hydrothermal circulation above melt lens during magma starvation. The estimated rapid hydrothermal cooling explains how the effective heat extraction from melt lens is achieved at fast-spreading mid-ocean ridges.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Lithosphere, Physical oceanography, Igneous rock, Basalt, Mid-ocean ridge, Geological processes, Gabbro


Owing to potential industrial applications and fundamental significance, tailored synthesis of well-defined anatase TiO2 nanocrystals with exposed highly reactive {001} facets has stimulated great research interest. In this work, surface-fluorinated anatase TiO2 nanocrystals have been successfully prepared by using an ionic liquid (IL) assisted hydrothermal synthetic route. TiCl4 is used as precursor, and 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium tetrafluoroborate ([Bmim](+)[BF4](-)) as morphology-controlling agent. The anion of the IL plays a key role in controlling the crystallization process via a dissolution-recrystallization process. Compared with the benchmark material Degussa P25, the fluorinated anatase TiO2 nanocrystals exhibit superior photocatalytic activity.

Concepts: Crystal, Titanium dioxide, Photocatalysis, Ions, Chemical engineering, Anatase, Crystal growth, Geological processes