Mineralium Deposita

, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 143–152 | Cite as

The influence of spreading rate, basement composition, fluid chemistry and chimney morphology on the formation of gold-rich SMS deposits at slow and ultraslow mid-ocean ridges

  • Robert D. Knight
  • Stephen Roberts
  • Alexander P. Webber


Seafloor massive sulphide (SMS) deposits are variably enriched in precious metals including gold. However, the processes invoked to explain the formation of auriferous deposits do not typically apply to mid-ocean ridge settings. Here, we show a statistically significant, negative correlation between the average gold concentration of SMS deposits with spreading rate, at non-sedimented mid-ocean ridges. Deposits located at slow spreading ridges (20–40 mm/a) have average gold concentrations of between 850 and 1600 ppb; however, with increasing spreading rate (up to 140 mm/a), gold concentrations gradually decrease to between ~ 50 and 150 ppb. This correlation of gold content with spreading rate may be controlled by the degree and duration of fluid-rock interaction, which is a function of the heat flux, crustal structure (faulting) and the permeability of the source rocks. Deposits at ultraslow ridges, including ultramafic-hosted deposits, are particularly enriched in gold. This is attributed to the higher permeability of the ultramafic source rocks achieved by serpentinisation and the inherent porosity of serpentine minerals, combined with relatively high gold concentrations in peridotite compared with mid-ocean ridge basalt. Variations in fluid chemistry, such as reducing conditions and the potential for increased sulphur availability at ultramafic-hosted sites, may also contribute to the high concentrations observed. Beehive chimneys, which offer more favourable conditions for gold precipitation, may be more prevalent at ultramafic-hosted sites due to diffuse low-velocity venting compared with more focussed venting at basalt-hosted sites.


Gold mineralisation Massive sulphide Mid-ocean ridge Hydrothermal Ultramafic 



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under the MIDAS project, grant agreement no 603418 and NERC grant NE/I01442X/1. We would like to thank one anonymous reviewer and Editor Bernd Lehmann for their constructive comments that have improved this paper.

Supplementary material

126_2017_762_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (138 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 137 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert D. Knight
    • 1
  • Stephen Roberts
    • 1
  • Alexander P. Webber
    • 1
  1. 1.Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre SouthamptonUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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