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Northern Cascadia Margin gas hydrates — Regional geophysical surveying, IODP drilling leg 311, and cabled observatory monitoring

January 17, 2022

This article reviews extensive geophysical survey data, ocean drilling results and long-term seafloor monitoring that constrain the distribution and concentration of gas hydrates within the accretionary prism of the northern Cascadia subduction margin, located offshore Vancouver Island in Canada. Seismic surveys and geologic studies conducted since the 1980s have mapped the bottom simulating reflector (BSR), detected gas hydrate occurrence and estimated gas hydrate and free gas concentrations. Additional constraints were obtained from seafloor-towed, controlled-source electromagnetic surveying. A component of these studies has been the examination of low-temperature seafloor vents and seeps that emit gas and fluids into the ocean. These features are identified seismically as chimney-like zones of reduced acoustic reflectivity within the sediment stratigraphy, functioning as conduits for gas and fluid migration from below the BSR to the seafloor. Gas hydrates have been recovered from the seafloor and from sediment cores at vent sites, mostly in massive (nodular) form and as a vein-like fracture filling. The Ocean Networks Canada cabled NEPTUNE observatory has gathered extensive continuous, long-term observations on gas hydrate dynamics at the seafloor and in boreholes at two nodes on the continental slope featuring high gas hydrate concentrations. Measurements taken at the observatory include a time-series of gas bubble emission rates, changes in the near-seafloor electromagnetic structure and seafloor compliance linked to gas hydrate formation and dissociation. Two Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) expeditions collected cores, measured downhole properties and deployed downhole instruments within the central accretionary prism. At IODP Site U1364, pore pressures are being monitored above and below the base of the gas hydrate stability zone at a slope setting using an “Advanced Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kit” (A-CORK). Downhole pore pressures, temperatures and electrical resistivities also are being monitored at IODP Site U1416 using the “Simple Cabled Instrument for Measuring Parameters In Situ” (SCIMPI) tool at a vent site from near-seafloor to just above the base of the gas hydrate stability zone.