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Geological settings and seafloor morphodynamic evolution linked to methane seepage

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Abstract

Methane seeps have been shown to be a powerful agent in modifying seabed morphology, amongst others by cementation processes such as the formation of methane-derived authigenic carbonates (MDACs). The cements stabilise mobile sediment particles and thereby promote the formation of edifices such as mounds on various scales. The release of methane from shallow subsurface sources, when concentrated in seeps, has proven hazardous to offshore construction activities. In this paper, methane cycling and MDAC precipitation is explored as a potential “finger on the pulse” for the recognition of shallow gas pockets and active gas seepage. This would provide a valuable planning tool for seabed engineering developments in areas of potential gas seepage. Measurements of methane concentrations in the Irish Sea are correlated with a unique record of longer-term morphological evolution (up to 11 years) of MDAC structures and subsurface geological settings which would favour the build-up of shallow gas. It was found that gas seepage activity associated with fault zones correlates with carbonate mound steepness. Cessation of gas seepage results in a relatively slow process of erosion and burial of the mounds, eventually producing a subdued carbonate mound morphology after several decades. The Quaternary glacial legacy equally seems to define the distribution and geometry of the MDAC structures. In this case, methane gas locally concentrated in sands and gravels capped by clayey glacial sediments may percolate upwards to the seafloor. A link between methane seeps and the formation of unusually large, trochoidally shaped sediment waves observed on continental shelves worldwide is deemed unlikely. However, the observations suggest that gas percolating through sediment waves may be capped by muddy sediments which have deposited on the sediment waves due to anoxic conditions or eroded from a neighbouring cliff. Other sediment waves in the Irish Sea were found to have a step-like morphology similar to that documented in the neighbouring MDAC cemented seafloor. These processes may influence sediment waves dynamics and warrant further investigation.

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Acknowledgements

This scientific survey (CV12007) was funded for 8 days offshore, including shipment and travel, by the European Commission (EC Grant agreement no. 228344) through the EUROFLEETS Project, a EU project funded through the EU FP7 Capacities/Research Infrastructures Programme, aiming at creating an alliance of European research fleets, bound to the general EC terms for project funding. An extra 2 days offshore were funded by the Petroleum Affairs Division, which is part of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources which regulates, protects and develops the Natural Resources of Ireland. The project partners at Bangor University, the University of Liverpool, the University of Basel and the Università degli Studi di Genova funded 1 supplementary day on the RV Celtic Voyager. Helge Niemann was funded through a COST Short Term Scientific Mission (COST-STSM-ECOST-STSM- ES0902-190312-016289), and Lea Steinle through the Swiss National Science Foundation (project 138057). Independent assessments by three reviewers are acknowledged.

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Van Landeghem, K.J.J., Niemann, H., Steinle, L.I. et al. Geological settings and seafloor morphodynamic evolution linked to methane seepage. Geo-Mar Lett 35, 289–304 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00367-015-0407-5

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