Abstract

High-resolution multibeam bathymetry data collected with an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) complemented by compressed high-intensity radar pulse (Chirp) profiles and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) observations and sediment sampling reveal a distinctive rough topography associated with seafloor gas venting and/or near-subsurface gas hydrate accumulations. The surveys provide 1 m bathymetric grids of deep-water gas venting sites along the best-known gas venting areas along the Pacific margin of North America, which is an unprecedented level of resolution. Patches of conspicuously rough seafloor that are tens of meters to hundreds of meters across and occur on larger seafloor topographic highs characterize seepage areas. Some patches are composed of multiple depressions that range from 1 to 100 m in diameter and are commonly up to 10 m deeper than the adjacent seafloor. Elevated mounds with relief of >10 m and fractured surfaces suggest that seafloor expansion also occurs. Ground truth observations show that these areas contain broken pavements of methane-derived authigenic carbonates with intervening topographic lows. Patterns seen in Chirp profiles, ROV observations, and core data suggest that the rough topography is produced by a combination of diagenetic alteration, focused erosion, and inflation of the seafloor. This characteristic texture allows previously unknown gas venting areas to be identified within these surveys. A conceptual model for the evolution of these features suggests that these morphologies develop slowly over protracted periods of slow seepage and shows the impact of gas venting and gas hydrate development on the seafloor morphology.

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