Tectonically induced bending of incoming plates at subduction zones can result in normal faulting in the upper ocean crust. Seismic surveys and numerical models indicate enhanced permeability and fluid circulation when this occurs. Yet, direct geological evidence of such effects on the seafloor is lacking. Here we report Human Occupied Vehicle (HOV) based observations of the existence of fluid discharge features on the seafloor of the incoming plate of the Mariana subduction zone. These features include fluid discharge points and associated pock-marks, which are striking, and occur in abundance in several depth related fields. The existence of Galatheid crabs, a typical seep related organism, also indicates fluid discharge from the seafloor. Alteration of the coexisting basaltic ocean crust is extensive, with iddingsite-rich muds within and overlapping the apparent fluid discharge zones. Our findings are significant in that they suggest that structural deformation of the incoming plate could substantially influence chemical exchange between the upper ocean crust and seawater in a new way. We further suggest that these fluid discharge points may represent previously unknown niches for H2-based chemolithotrophic life and microbial ecosystems at deep trenches. Observations reported here contrast both chemically and physically with serpentine mud volcano formation associated with the shallower Mariana forearc region.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We are very grateful to the pilots and crew of the RVXYH09-Ji-aolong for their professional service during this cruise. Funding for this study was provided by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB06020000) and the National key research and development plan of China (2016YFC0304900, 2016YFC0302301 and 2016YFC0300503).