What processes at mid-ocean ridges tell us about volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits
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- Cathles, L.M. Miner Deposita (2011) 46: 639. doi:10.1007/s00126-010-0292-9
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Episodic seafloor spreading, ridge topography, and fault movement at ridges find (more extreme) analogs in the arc and back-arc setting where the volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposits that we mine today were formed. The factors affecting sulfide accumulation efficiency and the extent to which sulfides are concentrated spatially are the same in both settings, however. The processes occurring at mid-ocean ridges therefore provide a useful insight into those producing VMS deposits in arcs and back-arcs. The critical observation investigated here is that all the heat introduced by seafloor spreading at mid-ocean ridges is carried out of the crust within a few hundred meters of the ridge axis by ∼350°C hydrothermal fluids. The high-temperature ridge hydrothermal systems are tied to the presence of magma at the ridge axis and greatly reduce the size and control the shape of axial magma intrusions. The amount of heat introduced to each square kilometer of ocean crust during its formation can be calculated, and its removal by high-temperature convection allows calculation of the total base metal endowment of the ocean basins. Using reasonable metal deposition efficiencies, we conclude that the ocean floor is a giant VMS district with metal resources >600 times the total known VMS reserves on land and a copper resource which would last >6,000 years at current production rates.