by Staff Writers
Santa Cruz CA (SPX) Jul 01, 2015
Vast quantities of ocean water circulate through the seafloor, flowing through the volcanic rock of the upper oceanic crust. A new study by scientists at UC Santa Cruz, published in Nature Communications, explains what drives this global process and how the flow is sustained.
About 25 percent of the heat that flows out of the Earth's interior is transferred to the oceans through this process, according to Andrew Fisher, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz and coauthor of the study. Much of the fluid flow and heat transfer occurs through thousands of extinct underwater volcanoes (called seamounts) and other locations where porous volcanic rock is exposed at the seafloor.
Fisher led an international team of scientists that in the early 2000s discovered the first field site where this process could be tracked from fluid inflow to outflow, in the northeastern Pacific Ocean. In a 2003 paper published in Nature, Fisher and others reported that bottom seawater entered into one seamount, traveled horizontally through the crust, gaining heat and reacting with crustal rocks, then discharged into the ocean through another seamount more than 50 kilometers away.
'Ever since we discovered a place where these processes occur, we have been trying to understand what drives the fluid flow, what it looks like, and what determines the flow direction,' Fisher said.
For the new study, first author Dustin Winslow, a UCSC Ph.D. candidate who graduated this month, developed the first three-dimensional computer models showing how the process works. The models reveal a 'hydrothermal siphon' driven by heat loss from deep in the Earth and the flow of cold seawater down into the crust and of warmed water up out of the crust.
'Dustin's models provide the best, most realistic view of these systems to date, opening a window into a hidden realm of water, rock, and life,' Fisher said.
The models show that water tends to enter the crust ('recharge') through seamounts where fluid flow is easiest due to favorable rock properties and larger seamount size. Water tends to discharge where fluid flow is more difficult due to less favorable rock properties or smaller seamount size. This finding is consistent with field observations suggesting that smaller seamounts are favored as sites of hydrothermal discharge.
'This modeling result was surprising initially, and we had to run many simulations to convince ourselves that it made sense,' Winslow said. 'We also found that models set up to flow in the opposite direction would spontaneously flip so that discharge occurred through less transmissive seamounts. This seems to be fundamental to explaining how these systems are sustained.'
Winslow's project was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation through a graduate fellowship and as part of the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI). UCSC is a partner in C-DEBI, which is headquartered at the University of Southern California.
University of California - Santa Cruz
Water News - Science, Technology and Politics
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.|