Chemical input to the deep sea from hydrothermal systems is a globally distributed phenomenon. Hydrothermal discharge is one of the primary mechanisms by which the Earth’s interior processes manifest themselves at the Earth’s surface, and it provides a source of energy for autotrophic processes by microbes that are too deep to capitalize on sunlight. Much is known about the water-column signature of this discharge from high-temperature mid-ocean Ridge (MOR) environments and their neighboring low-temperature counterparts. Hydrothermal discharge farther away from the ridge, however, has garnered less attention, owing in part to the difficulty in finding this style of venting, which eludes methods of detection that work well for high-temperature ‘black smoker’-type venting. Here we present a case study of the plume from one such ‘invisible’ off-axis environment, The Lost City, with an emphasis on the dissolved volatile content of the hydrothermal plume. Serpentinization and abiotic organic synthesis generate significant concentrations of H2 and CH4 in vent fluid, but these species are unevenly transported to the overlying plume, which itself appears to be a composite of two different sources. A concentrated vent cluster on the talus slope channels fluid through at least eight chimneys, producing a water-column plume with the highest observed concentrations of CH4 in the field. In contrast, a saddle in the topography leading up to a carbonate cap hosts broadly distributed, nearly invisible venting apparent only in its water-column signals of redox potential and dissolved gas content, including the highest observed plume H2. After normalizing H2 and CH4 to the 3He background-corrected anomaly (3HeΔ) to account for mixing and relative amount of mantle input, it appears that, while a minimum of 60% of CH4 is transported out of the system, greater than 90% of the H2 is consumed in the subsurface prior to venting. The exception to this pattern occurs in the plume originating from the area dubbed Chaff Beach, in which somewhat more than 10% of the original H2 remains, indicating that this otherwise unremarkable plume, and others like it, may represent a significant source of H2 to the deep sea.
The Loihi hydrothermal plume provides an opportunity to investigate iron (Fe) oxidation and microbial processes in a system that is truly Fe dominated and distinct from mid-ocean ridge spreading centers. The lack of hydrogen sulfide within the Loihi hydrothermal fluids and the presence of an oxygen minimum zone at this submarine volcano’s summit, results in a prolonged presence of reduced Fe within the dispersing non-buoyant plume. In this study, we have investigated the potential for microbial carbon fixation within the Loihi plume. We sampled for both particulate and dissolved organic carbon in hydrothermal fluids, microbial mats growing around vents, and the dispersing plume, and carried out stable carbon isotope analysis on the particulate fraction. The δ13C values of the microbial mats ranged from −23‰ to −28‰, and are distinct from those of deep-ocean particulate organic carbon (POC). The mats and hydrothermal fluids were also elevated in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) compared to background seawater. Within the hydrothermal plume, DOC and POC concentrations were elevated and the isotopic composition of POC within the plume suggests mixing between background seawater POC and a 13C-depleted hydrothermal component. The combination of both DOC and POC increasing in the dispersing plume that cannot solely be the result of entrainment and DOC adsorption, provides strong evidence for in-situ microbial productivity by chemolithoautotrophs, including a likelihood for iron-oxidizing microorganisms.