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Title: Temporal Characterization of Hydrates System Dynamics beneath Seafloor Mounds. Integrating Time-Lapse Electrical Resistivity Methods and In Situ Observations of Multiple Oceanographic Parameters

This study was designed to investigate temporal variations in hydrate system dynamics by measuring changes in volumes of hydrate beneath hydrate-bearing mounds on the continental slope of the northern Gulf of Mexico, the landward extreme of hydrate occurrence in this region. Direct Current Resistivity (DCR) measurements were made contemporaneously with measurements of oceanographic parameters at Woolsey Mound, a carbonate-hydrate complex on the mid-continental slope, where formation and dissociation of hydrates are most vulnerable to variations in oceanographic parameters affected by climate change, and where changes in hydrate stability can readily translate to loss of seafloor stability, impacts to benthic ecosystems, and venting of greenhouse gases to the water-column, and eventually, the atmosphere. We focused our study on hydrate within seafloor mounds because the structurally-focused methane flux at these sites likely causes hydrate formation and dissociation processes to occur at higher rates than at sites where the methane flux is less concentrated and we wanted to maximize our chances of witnessing association/dissociation of hydrates. We selected a particularly well-studied hydrate-bearing seafloor mound near the landward extent of the hydrate stability zone, Woolsey Mound (MC118). This mid-slope site has been studied extensively and the project was able to leverage considerable resources frommore » the team’s research experience at MC118. The site exhibits seafloor features associated with gas expulsion, hydrates have been documented at the seafloor, and changes in the outcropping hydrates have been documented, photographically, to have occurred over a period of months. We conducted observatory-based, in situ measurements to 1) characterize, geophysically, the sub-bottom distribution of hydrate and its temporal variability, and 2) contemporaneously record relevant environmental parameters (temperature, pressure, salinity, turbidity, bottom currents) to detect short-term changes within the hydrates system, identify relationships/impacts of local oceanographic parameters on the hydrates system, and improve our understanding of how seafloor instability is affected by hydrates-driven changes. A 2009 DCR survey of MC118 demonstrated that we could image resistivity anomalies to a depth of 75m below the seafloor in water depths of 1km. We reconfigured this system to operate autonomously on the seafloor in a pre-programmed mode, for periods of months. We designed and built a novel seafloor lander and deployment capability that would allow us to investigate the seafloor at potential deployment sites and deploy instruments only when conditions met our criteria. This lander held the DCR system, controlling computers, and battery power supply, as well as instruments to record oceanographic parameters. During the first of two cruises to the study site, we conducted resistivity surveying, selected a monitoring site, and deployed the instrumented lander and DCR, centered on what appeared to be the most active locations within the site, programmed to collect a DCR profile, weekly. After a 4.5-month residence on the seafloor, the team recovered all equipment. Unfortunately, several equipment failures occurred prior to recovery of the instrument packages. Prior to the failures, however, two resistivity profiles were collected together with oceanographic data. Results show, unequivocally, that significant changes can occur in both hydrate volume and distribution during time periods as brief as one week. Occurrences appear to be controlled by both deep and near-surface structure. Results have been integrated with seismic data from the area and show correspondence in space of hydrate and structures, including faults and gas chimneys.« less
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  1. Univ. of Mississippi, Oxford, MS (United States)
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Technical Report
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Univ. of Mississippi, Oxford, MS (United States)
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Country of Publication:
United States