The Asphalt Ecosystem of the Southern Gulf of Mexico: Abyssal Habitats Across Space and Time

  • Ian R. MacDonaldEmail author
  • Adriana Gaytan-Caballero
  • Elva Escobar-Briones


Recent findings cap more than a decade of research on habitats for chemoautotrophic fauna that are generated by hydrocarbon seepage at abyssal depths in the southern Gulf of Mexico. Extensive pavements (3300 m2) of asphalt, created by repeated, slow discharges, are sparsely colonized by tubeworms that tap reduced sulfur compounds through cracks and fissures in the solidified material. At depths greater than 3000 m, gas hydrate forms instantaneously, generating frozen mounds 10 m or greater in diameter. These deposits are apparently stable for decades or longer, because they are colonized by massive arrays of tubeworms. The asphalt ecosystem of the southern Gulf poses special challenges for expanding deep-water oil production and many potential chemosynthetic habitats remain unexplored.


Chemosynthetic community Cold seep Gas hydrate Asphalt volcanism Deep sea 



We gratefully acknowledge contributions of the German research vessel METEOR, its crew, our colleagues in the MARUM group, University of Bremen, Germany, and especially the late Heiko Sahling, chief scientist. IRM also acknowledges support from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative/ECOGIG-2. 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian R. MacDonald
    • 1
    Email author
  • Adriana Gaytan-Caballero
    • 2
  • Elva Escobar-Briones
    • 2
  1. 1.Florida State University, Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric SciencesTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, El Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y LimnologíaMexico CityMexico

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