Alteration of the oceanic crust: Implications for geochemical cycles of lithium and boron

W. E. Seyfried, D. R. Janecky, M. J. Mottl

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Fresh tholeiitic basalt glass has been reacted with seawater at 150°C, (water/rock mass ratio of 10), and fresh diabase has been reacted with a Na-K-Ca-Cl fluid at 375°C (water/rock mass ratios of 1, 2, and 5) to understand better the role of temperature, basalt composition, and water/rock mass ratio on the direction and magnitude of B and Li exchange during basalt alteration. At 150°C, slight but nevertheless significant amounts of B and Li were removed from seawater and incorporated into a dominantly smectite alteration phase. At 375°C, however, B and Li were leached from basalt. B behaved as a "soluble" element and attained concentrations in solution limited only by the B concentration in basalt and the water/rock mass ratio. Li, however, was less mobile. For example, at water/rock mass ratios of 1, 2, and 5, the percent of Li leached from basalt was 58, 70, and 92% respectively. This suggests some mineralogic control on Li mobility during hydrothermal alteration of basalt, especially at low-water/rock mass ratios. In general, these results, as well as those for B, are consistent with the temperature-dependent chemistry of altered seafloor basalt and the chemistry of ridge crest hydrothermal fluids. Based on the distribution and chemistry of products of seafloor weathering, low (≤ 150°C) and high-temperature hydrothermal alteration of basalt, and the chemistry of ridge crest hydrothermal fluids, it was estimated that alteration of the oceanic crust is a Li source for seawater. This is not true for B, however, since the hot spring flux estimated for B is balanced by low-temperature basalt alteration. These data, coupled with B and Li flux estimates for other processes (e.g., continental weathering, clay mineral adsorption, authigenic silicate formation and formation of siliceous skeletal material) yield new insight into the B and Li geochemical cycles. Calculations performed here indicate relatively good agreement between the magnitude of B and Li sources and sinks. The geochemical cycle of B, however, may be affected by serpentinization of mantle derived peridotite in oceanic fracture zones. Serpentinites are conspicuously enriched in B and if the B source for these rocks is seawater, then an additional B sink exists which must be integrated into the B geochemical cycle. However, until more data are available in terms of areal extent of serpentinization, serpentite chemistry and isotopic composition, the importance of B in these rocks with respect to the B geochemical cycle remains speculative at best.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)557-569
Number of pages13
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1984


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