Geological and biological diversity of seeps in the Sea of Marmara

The Sea of Marmara hosts part of the North Anatolian Fault as an active submarine strike-slip fault. This area has suffered numerous earthquakes and presents a major seismic risk. Although the Sea of Marmara has been studied for many years, the link between geological morphostructures, the nature of fluids and biological communities is still rarely described. During the Marsite cruise (November 2014), dives with Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) VICTOR 6000 focused on detailed seafloor explorations of four different areas: the Central and Western highs and the Tekirdağ and Çinarcik basins. Based on 130 h of in situ videos, high-resolution seafloor mapping of seeps was conducted, emphasizing their significant geological and biological diversity from one seeping site to another, from one basin/high to another. Gas bubbles (CH4, CO2), shimmering water (brine, marine and fresh water) and oil, escape from the seafloor into the water column with low to strong fluxes. Black patches of reduced sediments, authigenic carbonate crusts and chimneys compose the seep environments with various types of bacterial mats and chemosynthetic fauna. Several venting sites discovered during previous cruises are still active 7–12 years later. The seeps are mostly, but not only, focalized along the Main Marmara Fault (MMF), at the southern border of the Tekirdağ Basin and along the Western High. Fluid emission is also occurring at secondary faults and at their intersection with the MMF. Our study emphasizes the location of seeps at the foot of slopes, gully outlets and crossroads. Sedimentary features, such as mass wastings, stratigraphic discontinuities or canyons, also interact with fluid emissions. The observed fauna is dominated by Bathymodiolinae, Vesicomyidae, Lucinidae-like empty shells and tubiculous worms resembling Ampharetidae polychatea. Most of the symbiont-bearing taxa encountered and previously sampled in the Marmara Sea, are characterized by thiotrophic symbioses. Vesicomyids and Idas sp. mussels are present at gas seeps, but also in areas where crude oil escapes from the seafloor. Moreover, other taxa unusually encountered at cold seeps such as large-sized amphipod and vagile worms were observed in the Çinarcik Basin. Idas-like mussels were observed in the western part of the Sea of Marmara, in the Tekirdağ Basin and possibly on the Western High active seep sites. There, the sampled fluids had high methane content (reaching 65 μmol/l) but not as high as on the Central High (363 μmol/l) and Çinarcik Basin (228 μmol/l) where no mussels were observed in the video records. Bottom waters oxygen levels in the Sea of Marmara showed a west to east decreasing gradient (57–8.5 μmol/l). These oxygen conditions, which fall under the limit of Oxygen Minimum Zones (OMZ <20 μm/l) in the eastern part, may impact benthic fauna and explain the absence of symbiotrophic bivalves at cold seep sites of the Çinarcik Basin, whereas densely aggregated amphipods, likely more tolerant to oxygen stress were observed in the seepage area. Finally, no specific fauna was observed near the CO2-rich seep sites. First observations suggest that seep fauna composition in the Sea of Marmara does not seem to be strongly influenced by the nature (e.g., oil, gas bubbling, brines) of fluid venting through seeps. The seep environments are highly variable and characterized by distinctive geological morphostructures. They sustain typical Mediterranean cold seep fauna, but also unusual communities likely related to the interaction of seeps with hypoxic conditions.


Sea of Marmara, Cold seeps, Fluids, Seismogenic faults, Chemosynthetic fauna, Methane

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Author's final draft
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Multimedia component 1. Table I summarizes the geological, geochemical and faunal characteristics of the seeps observed during the Marsite cruise.
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Multimedia component 2.
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Publisher's official version
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How to cite
Ondreas Helene, Olu Karine, Dupre Stephanie, Scalabrin Carla, Alix Anne-Sophie, Garrocq Clément, Ruffine Livio (2020). Geological and biological diversity of seeps in the Sea of Marmara. Deep-sea Research Part I-oceanographic Research Papers. 161. 103287 (17p.).,

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