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Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems










Processes active in rising hydrothermal plumes, such as precipitation, particle aggregation, and biological growth, affect particle size distributions and can exert important influences on the biogeochemical impact of submarine venting of iron to the oceans and their sediments. However, observations to date of particle size distribution within these systems are both limited and conflicting. In a novel buoyant hydrothermal plume study at the recently discovered high-temperature (398°C) Piccard Hydrothermal Field, Mid-Cayman Rise, we report optical measurements of particle size distributions (PSDs). We describe the plume PSD in terms of a simple, power-law model commonly used in studies of upper and coastal ocean particle dynamics. Observed PSD slopes, derived from spectral beam attenuation and laser diffraction measurements, are among the highest found to date anywhere in the ocean and ranged from 2.9 to 8.5. Beam attenuation at 650 nm ranged from near zero to a rarely observed maximum of 192 m-1 at 3.5 m above the vent. We did not find large (>100 µm) particles that would settle rapidly to the sediments. Instead, beam attenuation was well-correlated to total iron, suggesting the first-order importance of particle dilution, rather than precipitation or dissolution, in the rising plume at Piccard. Our observations at Piccard caution against the assumption of rapid deposition of hydrothermal, particulate metal fluxes, and illustrate the need for more particle size and composition measurements across a broader range of sites, globally.


Particles less than 30 µm dominated the rising Beebe plume, Plume particle size and composition varied strongly over narrow depth layers, Particle properties can be measured by optical proxy in hydrothermal plumes