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Expedition 311 synthesis: scientific findings1

M. Riedel,2 T.S. Collett,3 and M. Malone4


Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 311 was conducted to study gas hydrate occurrences and their evolution along a transect spanning the entire northern Cascadia accretionary margin. A transect of four research sites (U1325, U1326, U1327, and U1329) was established over a distance of 32 km, extending from Site U1326 near the deformation front to Site U1329 at the eastern limit of the inferred gas hydrate occurrence zone. In addition to the transect, a fifth site (U1328) was established at a cold vent setting with active fluid and gas expulsion, which provided an opportunity to compare regional pervasive fluid-flow regimes to a site of focused fluid advection. In this synthesis, a revised gas hydrate formation model is proposed based on a combination of geophysical, geochemical, and sedimentological data acquired during and after Expedition 311 and from previous studies. The main elements of this revised model are as follows:

  1. Fluid expulsion by tectonic compression of accreted sediments at nonuniform expulsion rates along the transect results in the evolution of variable pore water regimes across the margin. Sites closer to the deformation front are characterized by pore fluids enriched in dissolved salts at depth, where zeolite formation from ash diagenesis is dominant. In contrast, the landward portion of the margin shows a freshening of pore fluids with depth as a result of the progressive overprinting of diagenetic salt generation with freshwater generation from the smectite-to-illite transition at greater depth.

  2. In situ methane produced by microbial CO2 reduction within the gas hydrate stability zone is the prevalent gas source for gas hydrate formation.

  3. Some minor methane advection from depth is required overall to explain the occurrence of gas hydrate (and the associated downhole isotopic signatures of CH4 and CO2) within the sediments of the accretionary prism and the absence of gas hydrate within the abyssal plain sediments. In contrast, methane migrating from depth is a dominant source for gas hydrate formation at the cold vent Site U1328 (Bullseye vent).

  4. Gas hydrate preferentially forms in coarser grained sandy/silt turbidites, resulting in very high local gas hydrate concentrations. Typically, gas hydrate occupies <5% of the pore space throughout the gas hydrate stability zone. Higher gas hydrate saturations were observed in intervals with abundant coarse-grained sand layers and within fault-controlled fluid and gas migration conduits at the cold vent Site U1328.

1Riedel, M., Collett, T.S., and Malone, M., 2010. Expedition 311 synthesis: scientific findings. In Riedel, M., Collett, T.S., Malone, M.J., and the Expedition 311 Scientists, Proc. IODP, 311: Washington, DC (Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Management International, Inc.).

2Natural Resources Canada, Geological Survey of Canada, 9860 West Saanich Road, Sidney BC V8L 4B2, Canada.

3U.S. Geological Survey, Denver Federal Center, Denver CO 80225, USA.

4Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, 1000 Discovery Drive, College Station TX 77845, USA.

Initial receipt: 23 August 2009
Acceptance: 11 May 2010
Publication: 9 July 2010
MS 311-213