Multi-beam and seismic investigations of the active Haima cold seeps, northwestern South China Sea
Abstract: To confirm the seabed fluid flow at the Haima cold seeps, an integrated study of multi-beam and seismic data reveals the morphology and fate of four bubble plumes and investigates the detailed subsurface structure of the active seepage area. The shapes of bubble plumes are not constant and influenced by the northeastward bottom currents, but the water depth where these bubble plumes disappear (630–650 m below the sea level) (mbsl) is very close to the upper limit of the gas hydrate stability zone in the water column (620 m below the sea level), as calculated from the CTD data within the study area, supporting the “hydrate skin” hypothesis. Gas chimneys directly below the BSRs, found at most sites, are speculated as essential pathways for both thermogenic gas and biogenic gas migrating from deep formations to the gas hydrate stability zone. The fracture network on the top of the basement uplift may be heavily gas-charged, which accounts for the chimney with several kilometers in diameter (beneath Plume B and C). The much smaller gas chimney (beneath Plume D) may stem from gas saturated localized strong permeability zone. High-resolution seismic profiles reveal pipe-like structures, characterized by stacked localized amplitude anomalies, just beneath all the plumes, which act as the fluid conduits conveying gas from the gas hydrate-bearing sediments to the seafloor, feeding the gas plumes. The differences between these pipe-like structures indicate the dynamic process of gas seepage, which may be controlled by the build-up and dissipation of pore pressure. 3D seismic data show high saturated gas hydrates with high RMS amplitude tend to cluster on the periphery of the gas chimney. Understanding the fluid migration and hydrate accumulation pattern of the Haima cold seeps can aid in the further exploration and study on the dynamic gas hydrate system in the South China Sea.
Figure 1. Location of the geological map on the northern slope of SCS (a); geological background of the Haima cold seeps, and the study area is surrounded by several sags (b); and four sites of gas bubble plumes (yellow circle), labeled as A, B, C, and D were observed in the multi-beam water-column data (c). The pink lines are 2D multichannel seismic lines that pass through the plumes. Note that Plume B, C, and D are crossed by seismic lines Multi-Channel Seismic (MCS) 1236, MCS L440, MCS 1218, respectively. Near-seafloor gas hydrates were recovered at ROV1 and ROV2 sites (red dots) at 3–8 m below the seafloor with a 9 m-long, 73 cm-wide, and 1 000 kg-weight gravity piston corer (PC). The black line through ROV1 and ROV2 is the seismic line shown in Wang et al. (2018a). PRMB: Pearl River Mouth Basin, QDNB: Qiongdongnan Basin.
Figure 2. The water column images of gas bubble plumes (a, b, c and d), and the water column images of Plume C from different multi-beam lines (0060, 0063 and 0066) (e). In a, b, c and d, the water depths of the four plumes where they disappear are 645 m, 630 m, 650 m, and 647 m; the corresponding seafloor water depths are 1 380 m, 1 380 m, 1 420 m, and 1 470 m; thus the vertical lengths of the plumes, namely “height”, are 735 m, 750 m, 770 m, and 823 m, respectively. In e, the interval between successive lines is 3 hours. Plume C is inclined to the northeast at all the three survey lines. The shape of Plume C seems to change over time, but its upper limit seems to be almost invariant (640 m ± 10 m).
Figure 4. Seismic expressions of the fluid process associated with plume B. a. The 2D seismic line 1236 passing through Plume B, showing the uplifted basements and the overlying gas chimneys (GC); and b. the detailed image of the zone denoted by the black box in Fig. 2a, which illustrates the faulted zone and the BSRs on the top of GC1. In a, the location of the seismic line is depicted in Fig. 1b, and the section is divided into three parts for further discussion. In b, an acoustic blanking zone is directly above the BSRs, through which a pipe-like structure rises to the seafloor and connects to Plume B. Wispy fluid expulsion anomalies, perhaps paleo-pockmarks, are indicated by yellow arrows. BS: bright spot, BSR: bottom simulating reflector.
Figure 5. Seismic expressions of the fluid process associated with Plume C. a. Seismic section of MCS line L440 passing through Plume C, showing a basement uplift with a flat roof, topped by a large-scale gas chimney; and b. detailed image of the zone marked by the black box in Fig. 5a. In addition to Plume C, pockmarks (PM1 and PM2) are observed. The acoustic blanking zones and vertical amplitude anomalies are also shown between the seafloor and the BSRs. c. Zoomed figure showing PM1, PM2 and the corresponding underlying vertical anomalies; and d. zoomed figure showing the detailed structure beneath Plume C. GC: gas chimney, PM: pockmark, BSR: bottom simulating reflector, TWT: two way traveltime.
Figure 6. Seismic expressions of the fluid process associated with Plume D. a. Seismic section of the MCS line 1218 passing through Plume D, showing a rough, fluctuant basement and a minor gas chimney; and b. detailed image of the zone marked by the black box in Fig. 6a. Enhanced reflection zones occur beneath the BSRs. Acoustic blanking zones emerge in the overlying strata. Atop of the gas chimney, a V-shaped anomaly exists, corresponding to the deflecting amplitude anomaly and Plume D. GC: gas chimney, BS: bright spot, BSR: bottom simulating reflector, TWT: two way traveltime.
Figure 7. Seismic attributes associated with the cold seep. a. Time slice of the 3D seismic volume at 2 300 ms two way traveltime; and b. RMS amplitude attribute derived from the 3D seismic volume. The red lines indicate the locations of part of the line 1218 which passes through the Plume D. The area where the gas chimney developed exhibits low-value features in both slices. In addition, several medium-high and high-value zones are observed in the north, northwest, and southeast of RMS amplitude attribute slice. BSR: bottom simulating reflector.
Table 1. Differences of the seismic expressions and plumes at the four seep sites
Site Seismic anomalies about fluid migration Conduit (pipe-like structure) Water depth of
the root of
A / / 645 26 B gas chimney (>10 km wide), bright spot, paleo-pockmarks (?) strictly columnar, high amplitude 630 28 C gas chimney (>10 km wide), pockmarks diffuse, dimmed amplitude 650 50 D gas chimney (~1 km wide), enhanced reflections,
bright spot, dome-shaped anomaly
deflecting, moderate amplitude 647 33 Note: “/” indicates that the corresponding feature is not found, and mbsl means m below the sea level.
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