Observations and models of venting at deepwater Gulf of Mexico vents
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Natural vents in the Gulf of Mexico are actively expelling water and hydrocarbons. They are ubiquitous along continental margins, and I characterize a single vent in the Ursa Basin at leaseblocks MC852/853. Seismic data reveal that the vent is elevated ~75 meters above the seafloor and is roughly circular with a ~1.2 km diameter. A transparent zone centered underneath the vent extends to ~1500 meters below seafloor; this zone is commonly interpreted to record the presence of gas. There is a strong negative polarity seismic reflection that rises rapidly at the vent’s boundaries and is horizontal within a few meters of the seafloor beneath the vent edifice. I interpret that this reflection records a negative impedance contrast, marking the boundary between hydrate and water above and free gas and water below: it is the bottom-simulating reflector. Salinities beneath the vent increase from seawater concentrations to >4x seawater salinity one meter below seafloor. Temperature gradients within the vent are ~15x the background geothermal gradient. I model the coexistence of high salinity fluids, elevated temperature gradients, and an uplifted bottom-simulating reflector with two approaches. First, I assume that high salinity fluids are generated by dissolution of salt bodies at depth and that these hot, saline fluids are expelled vertically. Second, I model the solidification of gas hydrate during upward flow of gas and water. In this model, free gas combines with water to form hydrate: salt is excluded and heat is released, resulting in the generation of a warm, saline brine. The two models result in predictable differences of salinity and temperature. A better understanding of the hydrogeological processes at vent zones is important for quantifying the fluxes of heat and mass from submarine vents and is important for understanding the conditions under which deep-sea biological vent communities exist.