THE hydrothermal circulation of sea water through permeable ocean crust results in rock-water interactions that lead to the formation of massive sulphide deposits. These are the modern analogues of many ancient ophiolite-hosted deposits1-4, such as those exposed in Cyprus. Here we report results obtained from drilling a series of holes into an actively forming sulphide deposit on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. A complex assemblage of sulphide-anhydrite-silica breccias provides striking evidence that such hydrothermal mounds do not grow simply by the accumulation of sulphides on the sea floor. Indeed, the deposit grows largely as an in situ breccia pile, as successive episodes of hydrothermal activity each form new hydrothermal precipitates and cement earlier deposits. During inactive periods, the collapse of sulphide chimneys, dissolution of anhydrite, and disruption by faulting cause brecciation of the deposit. The abundance of anhydrite beneath the present region of focused hydrothermal venting reflects the high temperatures ( > 150°C) currently maintained within the mound, and implies substantial entrainment of cold sea water into the interior of the deposit. These observations demonstrate the important role of anhydrite in the growth of massive sulphide deposits, despite its absence in those preserved on land.
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