Suppression and stimulation of seafloor hydrothermal convection by exothermic mineral hydration

Simon Emmanuel, Brian Berkowitz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


The effect of serpentinization on hydrothermal convection is explored using a dynamic 2D numerical model. Serpentinization is a highly exothermic mineral hydration process that consumes large quantities of water. The reaction is ubiquitous in the oceanic lithosphere and is generally associated with hydrothermal activity. Here, the thermal and hydration effects are incorporated into conservation equations describing fluid flow and heat transfer in hydrothermal systems. Models representing two different geological scenarios are explored. The "permeability-initiated" case simulates rapid uplift of ultramafic basement rock accompanied by rock fracturing, while the "temperature-initiated" scenario simulates the uplift of an ultramafic complex followed by a magmatic event at depth. In both models, simulations of convection with and without serpentinization demonstrate that mineral alteration can have an important effect on hydrothermal flow patterns and vent temperatures. Two parameters determine the impact of serpentinization on the system: (1) the basal temperature (Tb), and (2) the dimensionless Rayleigh number (Ra). At Ra < 50 and Tb < 170, peak temperatures were only slightly affected by serpentinization and convection was initially suppressed due to the downward flow of water induced by the hydration reaction. At higher Rayleigh numbers and basal temperatures, serpentinization effectively stimulated the onset of convection and significantly affected transient vent temperatures; differences in peak vent temperatures between the standard convective case and that with serpentinization were found to be as high as 170 °C. Thus, together with the geothermal heat flux, serpentinization could act to control temperatures at seafloor hydrothermal sites.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)657-668
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 30 Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Israel Science Foundation is thanked for financial support (contract no. 598/04). We appreciate the constructive comments of Robert Lowell, Gerya Taras, and two anonymous reviewers.


  • Lost City
  • Mid-ocean ridges
  • Reaction model
  • Serpentinization


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