A wide array of carbonate-rich rocks has been recognized in the Tertiary Piedmont Basin (NW Italy), hosted in lower Messinian slope deposits. Carbonate cements show negative δ13C values and positive δ18O values, suggesting that carbonate precipitation was induced by microbial degradation of methane produced from gas hydrate destabilization. Two groups of rocks have been distinguished: (1) Lucina-bearing mud breccias, representing the seafloor product of an ancient seepage site; and (2) Lucina-free concretions, originating below the sediment-water interface. Within this group, two subtypes have been further distinguished: stratiform concretions and cylindrical concretions. Stratiform concretions result from precipitation of dolomite in the pores of muddy sediments. Some of them display a brecciated structure; others show a network of septarian-like cracks that are empty, filled with sediments, or zoned carbonate cements. Their internal features are related to the formation of gas hydrates within the sediments and to their destabilization. Thus, these rocks mark a portion of the sedimentary column located within a (paleo) gas hydrate stability zone. Cylindrical concretions represent ancient fluid conduits related to the upward migration of CH4-rich fluids subsequent to gas hydrate destabilization.
The carbonate-rich rocks of the Tertiary Piedmont Basin stand as one of the first examples of methane-derived rocks that record successive episodes of dissociation and re-formation of gas hydrates, and they provide precious elements to model the general evolution of a portion of the sedimentary column located within the hydrate stability zone.