Triple oxygen isotope systematics as a tracer of fluids in the crust: A study from modern geothermal systems of Iceland

D. O. Zakharov, I. N. Bindeman, R. Tanaka, G. Friðleifsson, M. H. Reed, R. L. Hampton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Triple oxygen isotope systematics of ancient hydrothermally altered rocks has been previously used to constrain environmental conditions of the Precambrian. To validate those studies, we report high-precision triple oxygen isotope measurements (expressed as Δ′17O with reference slope 0.528) of quartz, epidote and well fluids from modern geothermal areas of Iceland, Krafla and Reykjanes, as well as measurements from the extinct 6 Ma Geitafell hydrothermal system. At these systems, basalts reacted with distinct fluid sources at temperatures ranging from 250 to 400 °C. Resolvable difference between isotope compositions of surface waters and rocks enables novel insights into boiling, isotope exchange at variable water-rock ratios, and remelting of altered rock. Our measurements of δD, Δ′17O, and δ′18O in well fluids show that the reactions proceeded at water-rock ratios of 0.1 to 2, and reveal the addition of meteoric water in the Reykjanes system, and near-surface boiling and steam-liquid separation at Krafla. The δ′18O and Δ′17O values of fluids shift due to exchange with rocks at high temperature following the slope 0.51 in the triple isotope space. Near-surface boiling and steam-liquid separation cause shifts in δD and δ′18O values of the fluids. Their Δ′17O values do not change significantly owning to the shallow slope of liquid-vapor equilibrium fractionation relative to the reference line slope. Epidote δ′18O and Δ′17O values in all three localities closely resemble the isotope composition of local fluid sources. The measured slope of triple oxygen isotope fractionation between quartz and epidote at 250–400 °C is 0.526 ± 0.001. We suggest that triple oxygen isotope composition of epidote can be used as a direct first-order proxy for the equilibrium fluid δ′18O and Δ′17O values. The calibrated quartz-water equilibrium fractionation for triple oxygen isotopes yields general agreement with the local fluid sources, within ±1.5‰ of their δ18O values, while the Δ′17O agree within ±0.02‰. We present in situ δ18O measurements in a quartz crystal from Krafla that show several ‰ heterogeneities which may affect the reconstructed equilibrium fluid values. We tested the effect of shallow crustal contamination on the Δ′17O values of rhyolitic glasses from Krafla, including those quenched and extracted by drilling, that likely formed by assimilation of low-δ18O hydrothermally altered crust. Our Δ′17O measurements constrain the degree of crustal assimilation to 10–20 %. Our study shows that the Δ′17O values measured in geothermal fluids, secondary minerals and low δ18O contaminated magmas can provide key information on the conditions of water-rock reaction and magma genesis, and contain additional details that were not accessible through conventional analyses of δD and δ18O.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119312
JournalChemical Geology
Publication statusPublished - Dec 30 2019


  • Hydrothermal alteration
  • IDDP1
  • Iceland
  • Triple oxygen isotopes
  • Water-rock interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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