Fluid seepage features on the upper continental slope offshore Congo are investigated using multi-disciplinary datasets acquired during several campaigns at sea carried out over the last 15 years. This datasets includes multibeam bathymetry, seismic data, seafloor videos, seafloor samples and chemical analyses of both carbonate samples and of the water column. Combined use of these datasets allows the identification of two distinctive associations of pockmark-like seabed venting structures, located in water depths of 600–700 m and directly above a buried structural high containing known hydrocarbon reservoirs. These two features are called spiders due to the association of large sub-circular depressions (the body) with smaller elongate depressions (the legs). Seismic reflection data show that these two structures correspond to amplitude anomalies located ca. 60–100 ms below seabed. The burial of these anomalies is consistent with the base of the methane hydrate stability domain, which leads to interpret them as patches of hydrate-related bottom-simulating reflection (BSR). The morphology and seismic character of the two structures clearly contrasts with those of the regional background (Morphotype A). The spider structures are composed of two seafloor morphotypes: Morphotype B and Morphotype C. Morphotype B makes flat-bottomed depressions associated with the presence of large bacterial mats without evidence of carbonates. Morphotype C is made of elongated depressions associated with the presence of carbonate pavements and a prolific chemosynthetic benthic life. On that basis of these observations combined with geochemical analyses, the spider structures are interpreted to be linked with methane leakage. Methane leakage within the spider structures varies from one morphotype to another, with a higher activity within the seafloor of Morphotype C; and a lower activity in the seafloor of Morphotype B, which is interpreted to correspond to a domain of relict fluid leakage. This change of the seepage activity is due to deeper changes in gas (or methane) migration corresponding to the progressive upslope migration of fluids. This phenomenon is due to the local formation of gas hydrates that form a barrier allowing the trapping of free gas below in the particular context of the wedge of hydrates.

You do not currently have access to this article.