Crustal faults exposed in the Pito Deep Rift: Conduits for hydrothermal fluids on the southeast Pacific Rise

Nicholas W. Hayman, Jeffrey A. Karson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The escarpments that bound the Pito Deep Rift (northeastern Easter microplate) expose in situ upper oceanic crust that was accreted ̃3 Ma ago at the superfast spreading (̃142 mm/a, full rate) southeast Pacific Rise (SEPR). Samples and images of these escarpments were taken during transects utilizing the human-occupied vehicle Alvin and remotely operated vehicle Jason II. The dive areas were mapped with a "deformation intensity scale" revealing that the sheeted dike complex and the base of the lavas contain approximately meter-wide fault zones surrounded by fractured "damage zones." Fault zones are spaced several hundred meters apart, in places offset the base of the lavas, separate areas with differently oriented dikes, and are locally crosscut by (younger) dikes. Fault rocks are rich in interstitial amphibole, matrix and vein chlorite, prominent veins of quartz, and accessory grains of sulfides, oxides, and sphene. These phases form the fine-grained matrix materials for cataclasites and cements for breccias where they completely surround angular to subangular clasts of variably altered and deformed basalt. Bulk rock geochemical compositions of the fault rocks are largely governed by the abundance of quartz veins. When compositions are normalized to compensate for the excess silica, the fault rocks exhibit evidence for additional geochemical changes via hydrothermal alteration, including the loss of mobile elements and gain of some trace metals and magnesium. Microstructures and compositions suggest that the fault rocks developed over multiple increments of deformation and hydrothermal fluid flow in the subaxial environment of the SEPR; faults related to the opening of the Pito Deep Rift can be distinguished by their orientation and fault rock microstructure. Some subaxial deformation increments were likely linked with violent discharge events associated with fluid pressure fluctuations and mineral sealing within the fault zones. Other increments were linked with the influx of relatively fresh seawater. The spacing of the faults is consistent with fault localization occurring every 7000 to 14,000 years, with long-term slip rates of <3 mm/a. Once spread from the ridge axis, the faults were probably not active, and damage zones likely played a more significant role in axial flank and off-axis crustal permeability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberQ02013
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • East Pacific Rise
  • Faults
  • Hydrothermal
  • Mid-ocean ridge
  • Pito deep
  • Tectonic window

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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