Creeping Gas Hydrate Slides and Hikurangi LWD1
Published March 2018
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International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 372 combined two research topics, slow slip events (SSEs) on subduction faults (IODP Proposal 781A-Full) and actively deforming gas hydrate–bearing landslides (IODP Proposal 841-APL). Our study area on the Hikurangi margin, east of the coast of New Zealand, provided unique locations for addressing both research topics.
SSEs at subduction zones are an enigmatic form of creeping fault behavior. They typically occur on subduction zones at depths beyond the capabilities of ocean floor drilling. However, at the northern Hikurangi subduction margin they are among the best-documented and shallowest on Earth. Here, SSEs may extend close to the trench, where clastic and pelagic sediments about 1.0–1.5 km thick overlie the subducting, seamount-studded Hikurangi Plateau. Geodetic data show that these SSEs recur about every 2 years and are associated with measurable seafloor displacement. The northern Hikurangi subduction margin thus provides an excellent setting to use IODP capabilities to discern the mechanisms behind slow slip fault behavior.
Expedition 372 acquired logging-while-drilling (LWD) data at three subduction-focused sites to depths of 600, 650, and 750 meters below seafloor (mbsf), respectively. These include two sites (U1518 and U1519) above the plate interface fault that experiences SSEs and one site (U1520) in the subducting “inputs” sequence in the Hikurangi Trough, 15 km east of the plate boundary. Overall, we acquired excellent logging data and reached our target depths at two of these sites. Drilling and logging at Site U1520 did not reach the planned depth due to operational time constraints. These logging data will be augmented by coring and borehole observatories planned for IODP Expedition 375.
Gas hydrates have long been suspected of being involved in seafloor failure; not much evidence, however, has been found to date for gas hydrate–related submarine landslides. Solid, ice-like gas hydrate in sediment pores is generally thought to increase seafloor strength, as confirmed by a number of laboratory measurements. Dissociation of gas hydrate to water and overpressured gas, on the other hand, may weaken and destabilize sediments, potentially causing submarine landslides.
The Tuaheni Landslide Complex (TLC) on the Hikurangi margin shows evidence for active, creeping deformation. Intriguingly, the landward edge of creeping coincides with the pinch-out of the base of gas hydrate stability on the seafloor. We therefore hypothesized that gas hydrate may be linked to creep-like deformation and presented several hypotheses that may link gas hydrates to slow deformation. Alternatively, creeping may not be related to gas hydrates but instead be caused by repeated pressure pulses or linked to earthquake-related liquefaction.
Expedition 372 comprised a coring and LWD program to test our landslide hypotheses. Due to weather-related downtime, the gas hydrate-related program was reduced, and we focused on a set of experiments at Site U1517 in the creeping part of the TLC. We conducted a successful LWD and coring program to 205 mbsf, the latter with almost complete recovery, through the TLC and gas hydrate stability zone, followed by temperature and pressure tool deployments.
1Pecher, I.A., Barnes, P.M., LeVay, L.J., and the Expedition 372 Scientists, 2018. Expedition 372 Preliminary Report: Creeping Gas Hydrate Slides and Hikurangi LWD. International Ocean Discovery Program. https://doi.org/10.14379/iodp.pr.372.2018