Observations of natural-state fluid pressures and temperatures in young oceanic crust and inferences regarding hydrothermal circulation

E. E. Davis, K. Becker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Four boreholes, drilled a few tens of meters into igneous basement on the eastern flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge during ODP Leg 168, were sealed and instrumented for long-term monitoring to observe the hydrologic state of young sediment-sealed oceanic crust. The thermal regime is dominated by the effects of rapid fluid circulation in uppermost igneous basement driven by very small non-hydrostatic pressure gradients. Upper basement temperatures are uniform laterally between pairs of holes over distances of hundreds of meters to kilometers. In the case of two holes drilled into a sediment-buried basement ridge and adjacent valley, basement temperatures differ by less than 2 K despite the 2.2 km lateral separation of the sites and the 2.5:1 contrast in sediment cover thickness. Under conductive conditions, upper basement temperatures would differ by roughly 50 K. By comparison with modeling results, the observed degree of isothermality suggests a fluid flux of at least 10-6 m s-1 (30 m yr-1), and an effective permeability in the range of 10-10-10-9 m2 in the uppermost igneous crust. The pressure difference available to drive this rapid flux between the ridge and valley, estimated by comparing the observed pressures via the isothermal upper basement hydrostat that is inferred to connect the two sites, is small (≈ 2 kPa) and also suggests high permeability. Relative to the hydrostats defined by the local conductive sediment geotherms, substantial super-hydrostatic pressure (+18 kPa) is present within the buried basement ridge, and sub-hydrostatic pressure is present in the adjacent valley (-26 kPa). Such pressure differentials are the direct consequence of the advection-dominated thermal regime and small pressure losses in high-permeability basement, and are available to drive fluid seepage through sediment sections vertically up above and horizontally away from buried ridges, and down above valleys. No constraints are provided by any of the observations on the depth in the crust to which thermally or chemically significant flow might extend, although just as in the overlying sediments, the pattern of deep flow may be affected by the near-isothermal and near-hydrostatic conditions present in the permeable uppermost crustal section.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-248
Number of pages18
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Nov 30 2002


  • Fluid flux
  • Hydrothermal circulation
  • Marine hydrogeology
  • Oceanic crust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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