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  1. Abstract

    Near-axis seamounts provide a unique setting to investigate three-dimensional mantle processes associated with the formation of new oceanic crust and lithosphere. Here, we investigate the characteristics and evolution of the 8˚20’N Seamount Chain, a lineament of seamounts that extends ~ 175 km west of the East Pacific Rise (EPR) axis, just north of the fracture zone of the Siqueiros Transform Fault. Shipboard gravity, magnetic, and bathymetric data acquired in 2016 are utilized to constrain models of seamount emplacement and evolution. Geophysical observations indicate that these seamounts formed during four distinct episodes of volcanism coinciding with changes in regional plate motion that are also reflected in the development of intra-transform spreading centers (ITSCs) along the Siqueiros transform fault (Fornari et al. 1989; Pockalny et al. 1997). Although volcanism is divided into distinct segments, the magnetic data indicate continuous volcanic construction over long portions of the chain. Crustal thickness variations along the chain up to 0.75 km increase eastward, inferred from gravity measurements, suggest that plate reorganization has considerably impacted melt distribution in the area surrounding the Siqueiros-EPR ridge transform intersection. This appears to have resulted in increased volcanism and the formation of the 8˚20’N Seamounts. These findings indicate that melting processes in the mantle and subsequently the formation of new oceanic crust and lithosphere are highly sensitive to tectonic stress changes in the vicinity of fast-spreading transform fault offsets.

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  2. Comprehensive knowledge of the distribution of active hydrothermal vent fields along midocean ridges is essential to understanding global chemical and heat fluxes and endemic faunal distributions. However, current knowledge is biased by a historical preference for on-axis surveys. A scarcity of high-resolution bathymetric surveys in off-axis regions limits vent identification, which implies that the number of vents may be underestimated. Here, we present the discovery of an active, high-temperature, off-axis hydrothermal field on a fast-spreading ridge. The vent field is located 750 m east of the East Pacific Rise axis and ∼7 km north of on-axis vents at 9° 50′N, which are situated in a 50- to 100-m-wide trough. This site is currently the largest vent field known on the East Pacific Rise between 9 and 10° N. Its proximity to a normal fault suggests that hydrothermal fluid pathways are tectonically controlled. Geochemical evidence reveals deep fluid circulation to depths only 160 m above the axial magma lens. Relative to on-axis vents at 9° 50′N, these off-axis fluids attain higher temperatures and pressures. This tectonically controlled vent field may therefore exhibit greater stability in fluid composition, in contrast to more dynamic, dike-controlled, on-axis vents. The location of this site indicates that high-temperature convective circulation cells extend to greater distances off axis than previously realized. Thorough high-resolution mapping is necessary to understand the distribution, frequency, and physical controls on active off-axis vent fields so that their contribution to global heat and chemical fluxes and role in metacommunity dynamics can be determined. 
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  3. Abstract

    Fissures and faults provide insight into how plate separation is accommodated by magmatism and brittle deformation during crustal accretion. Although fissure and fault geometry can be used to quantify the spreading process at mid‐ocean ridges, accurate measurements are rare due to insufficiently detailed mapping data. Here, fissures and faults at the fast‐spreading 9°50′N segment of the East Pacific Rise were mapped using bathymetric data collected at 1‐m horizontal resolution by autonomous underwater vehicleSentry. Fault dip estimates from the bathymetric data were calibrated using co‐registered near‐bottom imagery and depth transects acquired by remotely operated vehicleJason. Fissures are classified as either eruptive or non‐eruptive (i.e., cracks). Tectonic strain estimated from corrected fault heaves suggests that faulting plays a negligible role in the plate separation on crust younger than 72 kyr (<4 km from the ridge axis). Pre‐ and post‐eruption surveys show that most fissures were reactivated during the eruptions in 2005–2006. Variable eruptive fissure geometry could be explained by the frequency with which each fissure is reactivated and partially infilled. Fissure swarms and lava plateaus in low‐relief areas >2 km from the ridge are spatially associated with off‐axis lower‐crustal magma lenses identified in multichannel seismic data. Deep, closely spaced fissures overlie a relatively shallow portion of the axial magma lens. The width of on‐axis fissures and inferred subsurface dike geometry imply a ∼9‐year long diking recurrence interval to fully accommodate plate spreading, which is broadly consistent with cycle intervals obtained from estimates of melt extraction rates, eruption volumes, and spreading rate.

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  4. Abstract

    Volcanic seamount chains on the flanks of mid‐ocean ridges record variability in magmatic processes associated with mantle melting over several millions of years. However, the relative timing of magmatism on individual seamounts along a chain can be difficult to estimate withoutin situsampling and is further hampered by Ar40/Ar39dating limitations. The 8°20’N seamount chain extends ∼170 km west from the fast‐spreading East Pacific Rise (EPR), north of and parallel to the western Siqueiros fracture zone. Here, we use multibeam bathymetric data to investigate relationships between abyssal hill formation and seamount volcanism, transform fault slip, and tectonic rotation. Near‐bottom compressed high‐intensity radiated pulse, bathymetric, and sidescan sonar data collected with the autonomous underwater vehicleSentryare used to test the hypothesis that seamount volcanism is age‐progressive along the seamount chain. Although sediment on seamount flanks is likely to be reworked by gravitational mass‐wasting and current activity, bathymetric relief andSentryvehicle heading analysis suggest that sedimentary accumulations on seamount summits are likely to be relatively pristine. Sediment thickness on the seamounts' summits does not increase linearly with nominal crustal age, as would be predicted if seamounts were constructed proximal to the EPR axis and then aged as the lithosphere cooled and subsided away from the ridge. The thickest sediments are found at the center of the chain, implying the most ancient volcanism there, rather than on seamounts furthest from the EPR. The nonlinear sediment thickness along the 8°20’N seamounts suggests that volcanism can persist off‐axis for several million years.

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  5. Abstract

    Seafloor volcanic eruptions are difficult to directly observe due to lengthy eruption cycles and the remote location of mid‐ocean ridges. Volcanic eruptions in 2005–2006 at 9°50′N on the East Pacific Rise have been well documented, but the lava volume and flow extent remain uncertain because of the limited near‐bottom bathymetric data. We present near‐bottom data collected during 19 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV)Sentrydives at 9°50′N in 2018, 2019, and 2021. The resulting 1 m‐resolution bathymetric grid and 20 cm‐resolution sidescan sonar images cover 115 km2, and span the entire area of the 2005–2006 eruptions, including an 8 km2pre‐eruption survey collected with AUVABEin 2001. Pre‐ and post‐eruption surveys, combined with sidescan sonar images and seismo‐acoustic impulsive events recorded during the eruptions, are used to quantify the lava flow extent and to estimate changes in seafloor depth caused by lava emplacement. During the 2005–2006 eruptions, lava flowed up to ∼3 km away from the axial summit trough, covering an area of ∼20.8 km2; ∼50% larger than previously thought. Where pre‐ and post‐eruption surveys overlap, individual flow lobes can be resolved, confirming that lava thickness varies from ∼1 to 10 m, and increases with distance from eruptive fissures. The resulting lava volume estimate indicates that ∼57% of the melt extracted from the axial melt lens probably remained in the subsurface as dikes. These observations provide insights into recharge cycles in the subsurface magma system, and are a baseline for studying future eruptions at the 9°50′N area.

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