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Methane seeps on the U.S. Atlantic margin: An updated inventory and interpretative framework

April 12, 2024

Since the discovery of >570 methane flares on the northern U.S. Atlantic margin between Cape Hatteras and Georges Bank in the last decade, the acquisition of thousands of kilometers of additional water column imaging data has provided greater coverage at water depths between the outer continental shelf and the lower continental slope. The additional high-resolution data reveal >1400 gas flares, but the removal of probable duplicates from the combined database of new flares and those recognized in 2014 yields ∼1139 unique sites. Most of these sites occur in clusters of 5 or more seeps, leaving about 275 unique locations (including 47 clusters) for seepage along the margin. As a function of depth, seep distribution is heavily skewed toward the upper continental slope at water depths shallower than 400 m on the southern New England margin and ∼ 550 m in the Mid-Atlantic Bight, with additional seeps clustered at ∼1100 m and just deeper than ∼1400 m in both sectors. Despite little ongoing tectonic deformation or active faulting on this passive margin, a variety of processes driven from below the seafloor (e.g., migration of fluids along faults or through permeable strata, seepage above diapirs or other pre-existing structures) and from above (e.g., erosion, sapping, unroofing) contribute to the development of seeps in different settings along the margin. In addition, the prevalence of seeps on promontories overlooking shelf-breaking canyons may be directly related to the three-dimensional nature of the hydrate stability zone in these locations. As a function of depth, the parts of the slope at the contemporary landward limit of gas hydrate stability are devoid of seeps, and the upper slope zones with the most concentrated seepage were not within the gas hydrate stability zone even during the Last Glacial Maximum. Thus, if the large number of upper slope seeps is at least partially sourced in gas hydrate degradation, the gas emitted at these seeps must have migrated there from greater depths on the continental slope.

Publication Year 2024
Title Methane seeps on the U.S. Atlantic margin: An updated inventory and interpretative framework
DOI 10.1016/j.margeo.2024.107287
Authors Carolyn D. Ruppel, Adam Skarke, Nathaniel C. Miller, Maleen Kidiwela, Jared W. Kluesner, Wayne E. Baldwin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Geology
Index ID 70254074
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center; Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center