Remote sensing analysis of natural oil and gas seeps on the continental slope of the northern Gulf of Mexico
De Beukelaer, Sophie Magdalena
MetadataShow full item record
Natural hydrocarbon seeps harbor distinctive geological, chemical, and biological features in the marine environment. This thesis verified remote sensing signatures of seeps using in-situ observation and repeated collections of satellite imagery. Bubble streams in the Gulf of Mexico water column from four natural seep sites on the upper continental slope were imaged by a side-scan sonar, which was operated from a submarine near the seafloor, and by acoustic profilers, which were operated from surface ships. These data were correlated with sea surface slicks imaged by Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) on the RADARSAT satellite. Comparing non-oily bubble streams from rapidly venting mud volcanoes with oily bubble streams from shallow deposits of gas hydrate showed that they produced notably different signatures. Non-oily bubbles produced high backscatter on the side-scan sonar records, but were difficult to detect with the acoustic profilers. Oily bubbles from hydrate deposits produced acoustic shadows on the side-scan sonar records. The oily bubbles generated clear signatures extending from the seafloor to the near surface on the acoustic profile records. RADARSAT SAR images verified the presence of surface oil slicks over the hydrate deposits, but not over the mud volcanoes. This indicates that SAR imagery will not be able to capture every oil and gas seep in a region because non-oily bubble streams do not create surface oil slicks. A total of 113 natural oily seep sources were identified based on surface slicks in eleven SAR images collected over the northern continental slope. A persistence analysis verified that SAR is a dependable tool for capturing oil slicks because 93.5% of the slick sources identified in the 2001 images were corroborated with slicks in the 2002 images. The sources ranged in depth from 100 to 2000 m and 79% of the sources were in 900 meters or greater of water. Seventy-six percent of the seep sources were associated with salt less than 1500 m below the seafloor and none of the sources were located in the bottom of salt withdrawal basins. Geographical Information Systems (GIS) proved to be a useful tool in these analyses.