Ocean Observatories as a Tool to Advance Gas Hydrate Research

Scherwath, M., Thomsen, L., Riedel, Michael, Römer, M., Chatzievangelou, D., Schwendner, J., Duda, A. and Heesemann, M. (2019) Ocean Observatories as a Tool to Advance Gas Hydrate Research Earth and Space Science, 6 . DOI 10.1029/2019EA000762.

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Abstract

Since 2009, unprecedented comprehensive long-term gas hydrate observations have become available from Ocean Networks Canada's NEPTUNE cabled ocean observatory at the northern Cascadia margin. Several experiments demonstrate the scientific importance of permanent power and Internet connectivity to the ocean floor as they have advanced the field of gas hydrate related research. One example is the cabled crawler Wally at Barkley Canyon, enabling live in situ exploration of the hydrate mounds and its associated benthic communities through the crawler's mobility and permanent accessibility throughout the year. Another example is a bubble-imaging sonar at Clayoquot Slope, revealing the strong relationship between ebullition of natural gas and tidal pressure, without apparent correlation to earthquakes, storms, or temperature fluctuations, in year-long continuous recordings. Finally, regular observatory maintenance cruises allow additional science sampling including echo-sounder surveys to extend the observatory footprint. Long-term trends in the data are not yet apparent but can also become evident from continuous measurements, as ocean observatories such as NEPTUNE are built for a 25-year lifetime, and expansion of the observatory networks makes these findings comparable and testable.

Plain Language Summary Natural gas near the ocean floor creates a rapidly changing environment where it is important to collect data continuously in order to determine the magnitude, speed, and potential mechanism of change. This long-standing challenge of year-round access to the deep ocean has been tackled by Ocean Networks Canada through cabling the northern Cascadia seafloor, providing power and Internet communication-ideal for power-hungry instruments, large data volumes, and real-time access. The presence of gas influences the shape of the seafloor, animal activity, and potential escape of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. A seafloor crawler Wally was operated around deep canyon mounds of gas hydrate (a solid gas-water composite) since 2009 and helped discover environmental changes influencing sea life. Further along the continental slope, an acoustic sonar monitored rising methane bubbles where the bubbling appears to be controlled neither by earthquakes, winter storms, nor subtle temperature changes but actually strongly by tidal pressure. Regular maintenance of the observatory by ship allows more data to be collected near the cabled seafloor sites, extending the observations to a larger area. Ocean observatories are built to last decades and therefore more data for more research can be collected, potentially detecting relatively slow processes as well.

Document Type: Article
Keywords: Ocean observatories; Gas hydrates; Gas seepage; Seafloor robotics
Research affiliation: OceanRep > GEOMAR > FB4 Dynamics of the Ocean Floor > FB4-GDY Marine Geodynamics
Refereed: Yes
DOI etc.: 10.1029/2019EA000762
ISSN: 2333-5084
Projects: ROBEX, The Ocean in the Earth System
Date Deposited: 13 Dec 2019 07:55
Last Modified: 13 Dec 2019 07:55
URI: http://eprints.uni-kiel.de/id/eprint/48433

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