This study investigates the morphology, mineralogy, and geochemistry of seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) deposits from six back-arc hydrothermal vent fields along the Eastern Lau Spreading Center (ELSC) and Valu Fa Ridge (VFR) in the context of endmember vent fluid chemistry and proximity to the Tonga Subduction Zone. To complement deposit geochemistry, vent fluid analyses of Cu, Zn, Ba, Pb and H2,(aq)were completed to supplement existing data and enable thermodynamic calculations of mineral saturation states at in situ conditions. Results document southward increases in the abundance of mantle-incompatible elements in hydrothermal fluids (Ba and Pb) and SMS deposits (Ba, Pb, As, and Sb), which is also expressed in the abundance of barite (BaSO4) and galena (PbS) in SMS deposits. These increases correspond to a decrease in distance between the ELSC/VFR and the Tonga Subduction Zone that correlates with a change in crustal lithology from back-arc basin basalt in the north to mixed andesite, rhyolite, and dacite in the south. Barite influences deposit morphology, contributing to the formation of horizontal flanges and squat terraces. Results are also consistent with a regional-scale lowering of hydrothermal reaction zone temperatures from north to south (except at the southernmost Mariner vent field) that leads to lower-temperature, higher-pH vent fluids relative to mid-ocean ridges of similar spreading rates (Mottl et al., 2011). These fluids are Cu- and Zn-poor and the deposits formed from these fluids are Cu-poor but Zn-rich. In contrast, at the Mariner vent field, higher-temperature and lower pH vent fluids are hypothesized to result from higher reaction zone temperatures and the localized addition of acidic magmatic volatiles (Mottl et al., 2011). The Mariner fluids are Cu- and Zn-rich and vent from SMS deposits that are rich in Cu but poor in Zn with moderate amounts of Pb. Thermodynamic calculations indicate that the contrasting metal contents of vent fluids and SMS deposits can be accounted for by vent fluid pH. Wurtzite/sphalerite ((Zn, Fe)S) and galena (PbS) are saturated at higher temperatures in higher-pH, Zn-, Cu-, and Pb-poor ELSC/VFR vent fluids, but are undersaturated at similar temperatures in low-pH, Zn-, Cu-, and Pb-rich vent fluids from the Mariner vent field.
Indicators of pH in the ELSC and VFR SMS deposits include the presence of co-precipitated wurtzite and chalcopyrite along conduit linings in deposits formed from higher pH fluids, and different correlations between concentrations of Zn and Ag in bulk geochemical analyses. Significant positive bulk geochemical Zn:Ag correlations occur for deposits at vent fields where hydrothermal fluids have a minimum pH (at 25 °C) < 3.3, while correlations of Zn:Ag are weak or negative for deposits at vent fields where the minimum vent fluid pH (at 25 °C) > 3.6. Data show that the compositions of the mineral linings of open conduit chimneys (minerals present, mol% FeS in (Zn,Fe)S) that precipitate directly from hydrothermal fluids closely reflect the temperature and sulfur fugacity of sampled hydrothermal fluids. These mineral lining compositions thus can be used as indicators of hydrothermal fluid temperature and composition (pH, metal content, sulfur fugacity).