Weathering-driven porosity generation in altered oceanic peridotites

February 15, 2023

Simone Pujatti (1), Oliver Plümper (2), Benjamin M. Tutolo (1)
Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Volume 604 (15 February 2023). DOI:


Seafloor weathering, olivine dissolution, dissolution channel, porosity generation, elemental flux


Ultramafic rocks exposed at slow and ultra-slow spreading mid-ocean ridges represent a significant and extremely reactive portion of the oceanic lithosphere. Thus, mechanistic understanding of the processes by which seawater infiltrates into and reacts with these rocks is essential for constraining their contribution to the chemistry of the oceans and the coupled carbonate-silicate cycle. Recent observations indicate that nanoscale processes contribute to seawater-driven alteration of ultramafic rocks, but conventional petrographic and tomographic observations of the associated physical features are challenging to link to these nanoscale features. Moreover, multiple generations and varying conditions of fluid infiltration often obscure the relative roles of higher-temperature serpentinization, where reactions are mostly isochemical, and lower-temperature weathering reactions, where observations suggest the release of massive amounts of magnesium. Here we bridge these scales and investigate the specific role of weathering processes in dissolution-driven porosity generation by integrating focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy nanotomography and micro-computed X-ray tomography imaging of the pore structures preserved in drill cores of serpentinized oceanic periodtites. Relict olivine crystals in all imaged samples contain abundant etch pits, and those in the higher-resolution FIB-SEM imagery show the presence of channel-like dissolution structures. The pore channels preferentially affect olivine along grain boundaries and show anisotropic distribution likely controlled by crystallographic features. The pores formed via olivine dissolution are interpreted to result from dissolution of serpentinized peridotite at conditions where serpentine and carbonate precipitation are kinetically inhibited, i.e., at weathering conditions. Importantly, the calculated connectivity of the imaged pore structures increases as the scale of investigation increases, suggesting that weathering-driven olivine dissolution facilitates further seawater infiltration and olivine dissolution, a positive feedback that can sustain continued magnesium extraction until the rocks are ultimately cut off from seawater circulation via sedimentation. Thus, while much attention has been directed towards constraining geochemical fluxes from the higher-temperature alteration of ultramafic rocks, our results support literature studies suggesting that mineral dissolution, and hence elemental fluxes, are significant at the lower temperatures of seafloor weathering. Our data thus provide mechanistic evidence of the physical process contributing to the observed elemental loss from weathered oceanic periodtites.

How Our Software Was Used

The segmentation of the porous regions was performed using an artificial intelligence algorithm with U-net architecture in Dragonfly.

Author Affiliation

(1) Department of Geoscience, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4, Canada
(2) Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, 3584 CB, the Netherlands