During the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 331 at the Iheya North hydrothermal system in the Mid-Okinawa Trough by the D/V Chikyu, we conducted microbiological contamination tests of the drilling and coring operations. The contamination from the drilling mud fluids was assessed using both perfluorocarbon tracers (PFT) and fluorescent microsphere beads. PFT infiltration was detected from the periphery of almost all whole round cores (WRCs). By contrast, fluorescent microspheres were not detected in hydrothermally active core samples, possibly due to thermal decomposition of the microspheres under high-temperature conditions. Microbial contamination from drilling mud fluids to the core interior subsamples was further characterized by molecular-based evaluation. The microbial 16S rRNA gene phylotype compositions in the drilling mud fluids were mainly composed of sequences of Beta- and Gammaproteobacteria, and Bacteroidetes and not archaeal sequences. The phylotypes that displayed more than 97% similarity to the sequences obtained from the drilling mud fluids were defined as possible contaminants in this study and were detected as minor components of the bacterial phylotype compositions in 13 of 37 core samples. The degree of microbiological contamination was consistent with that determined by the PFT and/or microsphere assessments. This study suggests a constructive approach for evaluation and eliminating microbial contamination during riser-less drilling and coring operations by the D/V Chikyu.
The Eastern Lau Spreading Center (ELSC) is the southernmost part of the back-arc spreading axis in the Lau Basin, west of the Tonga trench and the active Tofua volcanic arc. Over its 397-km length it exhibits large and systematic changes in spreading rate, magmatic/tectonic processes, and proximity to the volcanic arc. In 2005, we collected 81 samples of vent water from six hydrothermal fields along the ELSC. The chemistry of these waters varies both within and between vent fields, in response to changes in substrate composition, temperature and pressure, pH, water/rock ratio, and input from magmatic gases and subducted sediment. Hot-spring temperatures range from 229° to 363 °C at the five northernmost fields, with a general decrease to the south that is reversed at the Mariner field. The southernmost field, Vai Lili, emitted water at up to 334 °C in 1989 but had a maximum venting temperature of only 121 °C in 2005, due to waning activity and admixture of bottom seawater into the subseafloor plumbing system. Chloride varies both within fields and from one field to another, from a low of 528 mmol/kg to a high of 656 mmol/kg, and may be enriched by phase separation and/or leaching of Cl from the rock. Concentrations of the soluble elements K, Rb, Cs, and B likewise increase southward as the volcanic substrate becomes more silica-rich, especially on the Valu Fa Ridge. Iodine and δ7Li increase southward, and δ11B decreases as B increases, apparently in response to increased input from subducted sediment as the arc is approached. Species that decrease southward as temperature falls are Si, H2S, Li, Na/Cl, Fe, Mn, and 87Sr/86Sr, whereas pH, alkalinity, Ca, and Sr increase. Oxygen isotopes indicate a higher water/rock ratio in the three systems on Valu Fa Ridge, consistent with higher porosity in more felsic volcanic rocks. Vent waters at the Mariner vent field on the Valu Fa Ridge are significantly hotter, more acid and metal-rich, less saline, and richer in dissolved gases and other volatiles, including H2S, CO2, and F, than the other vent fields, consistent with input of magmatic gases. The large variations in geologic and geophysical parameters produced by back-arc spreading along the ELSC, which exceed those along mid-ocean ridge spreading axes, produce similar large variations in the composition of vent waters, and thus provide new insights into the processes that control the chemistry of submarine hot springs.