Irregular BSR: Evidence of an Ongoing Reequilibrium of a Gas Hydrate System

Type Article
Date 2020-10
Language English
Author(s) Colin FlorentORCID1, Ker StephanORCID1, Riboulot VincentORCID1, Sultan NabilORCID1
Affiliation(s) 1 : Ifremer, REM-GM, Centre de Brest, BP 70, Plouzané 29280, France
Source Geophysical Research Letters (0094-8276) (American Geophysical Union), 2020-10 , Vol. 47 , N. 20 , P. e2020GL089906 (10p.)
DOI 10.1029/2020GL089906
WOS© Times Cited 11
Keyword(s) hydrates, seismic, very high resolution, dissociation, Black Sea

Gas hydrate (GH) systems constitute methane sinks sensitive to environmental changes such as pressure, temperature, and salinity. It remains a matter of debate as to whether the large GH system of the Black Sea has reached a steady state since the last glacial maximum (LGM). We report on an irregular free gas distribution in specific sediment layers marking an irregular bottom‐simulating reflector (BSR). This anomalous free gas distribution revealed by very high resolution seismic images, acquired by a deep‐towed multichannel seismic system, might be evidence of an on‐going migration of the base of the GH stability zone (GHSZ). We show that the reequilibrium is not occurring homogeneously as overpressure from hydrate dissociation slows their decomposition in specific sedimentary layers. The Black Sea example highlights that dissociation and the associated methane release in the water column or even in the atmosphere could be largely delayed by overpressure accumulation.

Plain Language Summary

Methane hydrate is an ice‐like compound composed of a cage of water molecules enclosing a methane molecule. Hydrates can form where water and methane are present under high pressure and low temperatures, for example in deep‐sea sediments. As a result of climate change (e.g., seawater temperature increase), hydrates can melt and release free gas and water. Yet we observe hydrates present where they should have melted according to modeling. We explain this irregular melting by differing properties of the host sediments and different quantities of hydrate in the sediments. Methane in the Earth’s atmosphere is a strong greenhouse gas. The release of methane from hydrate melting has been proposed as a runaway process where the methane released increases global warming, which further increases hydrate melting and methane release, repeating the cycle. Our results show that the destabilization of a hydrate system is actually a slow process, spanning several millennia. As such, a catastrophic destabilization of a gas hydrate system is unlikely.

Key Points

Very high resolution (< 1m) deep‐towed seismic imaging of the bottom‐simulating reflector allows characterizing gas hydrates dynamics

Irregular bottom‐simulating reflector is an indicator the transient state of a gas hydrate system in the Black Sea

Pore overpressure and hydrate recrystallization explain the long process of the readjustment of the base of the gas hydrate stability zone

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