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Geophysical Monograph Series



  • Natural gas hydrates



Fluid and gas expulsion on the northern Gulf of Mexico continental slope: Mud-prone to mineral-prone responses

H. H. Roberts

In the northern Gulf of Mexico slope province, complex structural relationships resulting from dynamic adjustments between large volumes of sediments and salt provide numerous faulted pathways for deep subsurface fluids and gases to be transported to the modern seafloor. Geological response at the seafloor to these hydrocarbon-rich fluids and gases is highly variable and dependent largely on rate and duration of delivery as well as fluid and gas composition. In a qualitative framework, rapid expulsions of fluids (including fluidized sediment) and gases generally result in buildups of sediment in the form of cones (mud volcanoes) that vary from a few meters to several kilometers in diameter and/or sheet-like flows that may extend tens of kilometers downslope. Conversely, slow seepage promotes lithification of the seafloor through precipitation of a variety of mineral species. Most important is the microbial utilization of hydrocarbons and precipitation of 13C-depleted Ca-Mg carbonates as by-products. These carbonates have δ 13C values that range between −18% to −55% (PDB), suggesting mixed carbon sources from crude oil to biogenic methane. The 13C-depleted carbonates form mounds and hardgrounds that occur over the full depth range of the slope. Mounded carbonates can have relief of up to 30 m, but mounds of 5–10 m relief are most common at sites thus far investigated. Mound-building carbonates are mixed mineral phases of aragonite, Mg-calcite, and dolomite with Mg-calcite being the most common. Barite is another product that is precipitated from mineral-rich fluids that arrive at the seafloor in low-to-moderate seep rate settings. However, barite precipitation is not as pervasive as that of 13C-depleted carbonates. The Gulf's intermediate flux settings seem best exemplified by areas where gas hydrates occur at the seafloor or in the very shallow subsurface. Intermediate flux environments display considerable variability with regard to surficial geology and on a local scale have elements of both rapid and slow flux settings. However, the intermediate flux environments appear to have the unique set of conditions necessary to support and sustain densely populated communities of chemosynthetic organisms. Since most of these areas are associated with faulting at the edges of intraslope basins, surficial or shallow subsurface gas hydrates (accessible by piston coring) are oriented along these faults and not in broad areas characterized by distinct bottom simulating reflectors (BSRs) as is the case in many simpler geologic settings. These shallow gas hydrates are composed of a complex mixture of biogenic-thermogenic methane and other thermogenic gases. Slight variations in near-bottom water temperature resulting from a variety of natural oceanographic processes cause gas hydrate dissociation and out-gassing resulting in the degradation to disappearnace of surficial gas hydrate mounds.

Citation: Roberts, H. H. (2001), Fluid and gas expulsion on the northern Gulf of Mexico continental slope: Mud-prone to mineral-prone responses, in Natural Gas Hydrates: Occurrence, Distribution, and Detection, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 124, edited by C. K. Paull and W. P. Dillon, pp. 145–161, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/GM124p0145.

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