Numerical modeling of submarine hydrothermal fluid flow

Mid-ocean ridges and volcanic passive continental margins are prime regions to explore active and extinct hydrothermal systems. In both settings, a large number of hydrothermal vents have already been discovered by direct observations and/or geophysical surveys. The growing interest in these systems results from their relevance for different fields of marine sciences. For example, commercially interesting ore deposits form as a byproduct of hydrothermal venting at the seafloor, unique ecosystems evolve around submarine vent sites, and hydrothermal systems driven by sill intrusions into organic sediments are related to hydrocarbon maturation and even venting of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Numerical simulations of hydrothermal fluid flow can help to gain a quantitative understanding of the subsurface physicochemical processes that control these systems. This thesis contributes to a better understanding of hydrothermalism in oceanic and continental settings by presenting a newly developed hydrothermal flow model and two case studies of hydrothermal flow at mid-ocean ridges and volcanic passive margins. To explore the effects of bathymetric relief on hydrothermal fluid flow in submarine settings, a systematic study has been carried out using 375 simulations. These simulations show that temperature-induced pressure variations in the subsurface result in the deviation of hydrothermal plumes towards bathymetric highs in submarine settings. The plume deviation from its origin is directly related to the surface slope and depth of the heat source. A case study for the fast-spreading East Pacific Rise at 9° 30’N shows that bathymetric effects help to focus venting directly onto the ridge axis – only if bathymetry is taken into account can across axis fluid flow be reconciled with exclusive on-axis venting. A second case study for the slow-spreading Lucky Strike segment of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge shows that also here venting is likely to occur at local bathymetric highs. The effects of hydrothermal convection triggered by sill intrusions in continental settings have been explored in a case-study for the Gjallar Ridge area on the Norwegian margin. This area is affected by a swarm of sill intrusions originated from North-Atlantic continental break-up during the Paleocene-Eocene transition as well as pre-break-up faults resulting from extensional tectonics. The structures are interpreted using 3D multichannel seismic data in combination with a structural and thermal reconstruction of the margin using TECMOD software. The reconstructed temperature is used as initial condition for sediments prior to sill injection and the detailed thermal history of sediments is modeled by a 2D fluid flow simulation. The simulation results show that high-temperature venting (>200°C) occurs less than 1000 years following sill emplacement. The faults play strong roles for transferring the fluids to far-off regions. As a result of circulating hot fluids, the maturity of sedimentary rocks is greatly enhanced, especially where the hot fluids are trapped below impermeable sills during their ascent, thereby suggesting potential zones for future hydrocarbon explorations. Furthermore, solution strategies for modeling hydrothermal fluid flow by finite element, finite volume and semi-Lagrangian methods are explained in particular in order to find out how the temperature equation is solved. Different schemes of fully-implicit, Crank-Nicolson and exponential for temperature diffusion and finite volume and semi-Lagrangian for temperature advection are evaluated. The results suggest that the most accurate method for solving temperature diffusion is Crank-Nicolson. However, other methods such as fully implicit and exponential are still valid. The mass conserving finite volume method is the most accurate method for solving temperature advection; however, limited time-stepping is its major drawback and thus semi-Lagrangian method is usually preferred. Therefore, the definition of optimum method is linked to the accuracy of interest and complexity of the media.


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