3-D multichannel seismic reflection study of variable-flux hydrocarbon seeps, continental slope, northern Gulf of Mexico

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Thomas, Ryan Douglas
Texas A&M University
Gulf of Mexico; seismic; hydrocarbon seeps; geophysical data; faults
book description
In the northern Gulf of Mexico, seafloor hydrocarbon fluid and gas seepage is an ubiquitous process on the continental margin. Although seafloor seepage and seep-related features (mud volcanoes, carbonate formation) have been studied for many years, little is known about their mechanisms of formation and the relationship of sub-surface structure to current seep activity. In this study, we examined three seafloor seeps in the Garden Banks and Mississippi Canyon areas using exploration and reprocessed 3D multi-channel seismic (MCS) data augmented with side-scan sonar (Garden Banks site) to characterize hydrocarbon seep activity and develop an understanding of the processes that led to their formation. Side-scan sonar data provided high resolution coverage of the seafloor while the exploration seismic data were used to image near and deep sub-surface features. Additionally, the 3D amplitude extraction maps were useful in delineating amplitude anomalies often associated with seep related activity. The reprocessed 3D seismic data were used to map in greater detail near seafloor features and amplitude anomalies. Using remote sensing geophysical data, we were effectively able to map sub-surface features such as salt topography, seep-related faults and geophysical indicators of hydrocarbons and correlate them with seafloor amplitude anomalies and fault traces in order to characterize seep activity level. The southern mud volcano in the Garden Banks site is characterized as an established high flux seep vent owing to signs of active seepage and sediment flows as well as the build-up of hard grounds. The northern mud volcano in the area, with greater hard ground build-up and fewer signs of active seepage represents an established low flux seep vent. In the Mississippi Canyon area, the data suggest that the seep mound can be characterized as a mature high flux vent due to the extensive build-up of hard ground, evidence of gas hydrates and signs of active seepage and sediment flows. The mechanisms of formation are similar between the two study sites. Upwelling salt appears to have fractured the sub-surface leading to the formation of fault induced depressions. Mapping of geophysical indicators of hydrocarbons implies that hydrocarbon migration is occurring along bedding planes to the fault systems underlying the depressions. Here they appear to migrate vertically to the seafloor creating the topographic features and seafloor amplitude anomalies that characterize the seeps