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Chaotic thermohaline convection in low-porosity\ud hydrothermal systems

By Stan Schoofs, Frank J. Spera and Ulrich Hansen


Fluids circulate through the Earth's crust perhaps down to depths as great as 5^15 km, based on oxygen isotope\ud systematics of exhumed metamorphic terrains, geothermal fields, mesozonal batholithic rocks and analysis of obducted\ud ophiolites. Hydrothermal flows are driven by both thermal and chemical buoyancy; the former in response to the\ud geothermal gradient and the latter due to differences in salinity that appear to be ubiquitous. Topographically driven\ud flows generally become less important with increasing depth. Unlike heat, solute cannot diffuse through solid matrix.\ud As a result, temperature perturbations advect more slowly than salinity fluctuations by the factor P, but diffuse more\ud rapidly by the factor U/D and are so smoothed out more efficiently. Here, P is porosity, while U and D denote the\ud thermal and chemical molecular diffusivity, respectively. Double-advective instabilities may play a significant role in\ud solute and heat transport in the deep crust where porosities are low. We have studied the stability and dynamics of the\ud flow as a function of P and thermal and chemical buoyancy, for situations where mechanical dispersion of solute\ud dominates over molecular diffusion in the fluid. In the numerical experiments, a porous medium is heated from below\ud while solute provides a stabilizing influence. For typical geological parameters, the thermohaline flow appears\ud intrinsically chaotic. We attribute the chaotic dynamical behavior of the flow to a dominance of advective and\ud dispersive chemical transfer over the more moderate convective heat transfer, the latter actually driving the flow. Fast\ud upward advective transport and lateral mixing of solute leads to formation of horizontal chemical barriers at depth.\ud These gravitationally stable interfaces divide the domain in several layers of distinct composition and lead to\ud significantly reduced heat flow for thousands of years. The unsteady behavior of thermochemical flow in low-porosity\ud regions has implications for heat transport at mid-ocean ridges, for ore genesis, for metasomatism and metamorphic\ud petrology, and the diagenetic history of sediments in subsiding basins. ß 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights\ud reserved

Topics: Aardwetenschappen, thermohaline circulation, convection, porous materials, geothermal systems, chaos, numerical model
Year: 1999
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