Fluid dynamics and slope stability offshore W-Spitsbergen: Effect of bottom water warming on gas hydrates and slope stability - Cruise No. MSM21/4 - August 12 - September 11, 2012 - Reykjavik (Iceland) - Emden (Germany)

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The main goal of MSM21/4 was the study of gas hydrate system off Svalbard. We addressed this through a comprehensive scientific programme comprising dives with the manned submersible JAGO, seismic and heat flow measurements, sediment coring, water column biogeochemistry and bathymetric mapping. At the interception of the Knipovich Ridge and the continental margin of Svalbard we collected seismic data and four heat flow measurements. These measurements revealed that the extent of hydrates is significantly larger than previously thought and that the gas hydrate system is influenced by heat from the oceanic spreading centre, which may promote thermogenic methane production and thus explain the large extent of hydrates. At the landward termination of the hydrate stability zone we investigated the mechanisms that lead to degassing by taking sediment cores, sampling of carbonates during dives, and measuring the methane turn-over rates in the water column. It turned out that the observed gas seepage must have been ongoing for a long time and that decadal scale warming is an unlikely explanation for the observed seeps. Instead seasonal variations in water temperatures seem to control episodic hydrate formation and dissociation explaining the location of the observed seeps. The water column above the gas flares is rich in methane and methanotrophic microorganisms turning over most of the methane that escapes from the sea floor. We also surveyed large, until then uncharted parts of the margin in the northern part of the gas hydrate province. Here, we discovered an almost 40 km wide submarine landslide complex. This slide is unusual in the sense that it is not located at the mouth of a cross shelf trough such as other submarine landslides on the glaciated continental margins around the North Atlantic. Thus, the most widely accepted explanation for the origin of such slides, i.e. overpressure development due to deposition of glacial sediments on top of water rich contourites, is not applicable. Instead we find gas-hydrate-related bottom simulating reflectors underneath the headwalls of this slide complex, possibly indicating that subsurface fluid migration plays a major role in its genesis.

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