On the differing growth mechanisms of black-smoker and Lost City-type hydrothermal vents.

25 Jun 2018

Black smokers and Lost City-type springs are varieties of hydrothermal vents on the ocean floors that emit hot, acidic water and cool, alkaline water, respectively. While both produce precipitation structures as the issuing fluid encounters oceanic water, Lost City-type hydrothermal vents in particular have been implicated in the origin of life on the Earth. We present a parallel-velocity flow model for the radius and flow rate of a cylindrical jet of fluid that forms the template for the growth of a tube precipitated about itself and we compare the solution with previous laboratory experimental results from growth of silicate chemical gardens. We show that when the growth of the solid structure is determined by thermal diffusion, fluid flow is slow at the solid-liquid contact. However, in the case of chemical diffusive transport, the fluid jet effectively drags the liquid in the pores of the solid precipitate. These findings suggest a continuum in the diffusive growth rate of hydrothermal vent structures, where Lost City-type hydrothermal vents favour contact between the vent fluid and the external seawater. We explore the implications for the road to life.