An Inventory of Underwater Landslides in Lake Baikal Suggests a Strong Link with Gas Hydrates
Abstract:Multibeam bathymetry data from Lake Baikal were analyzed for the identification of morphologies that could indicate the presence of underwater landslides. The data were collected in 2009 by a Belgian-Russian-Japanese consortium, using a 50 kHz Seabeam 1050 echosounder, operated from RV Titov. The data cover the entire lake floor –in water depths between 200 m and 1637 m– of the Southern and Central Basins, i.e. a total surface of 15,000 km2.
Our analysis revealed the presence of 26 possible underwater landslides. At least 11 of these are characterized by distinctive headwalls, scars and overall morphology, and were confirmed to be mass-wasting features by high-resolution reflection seismic data.
Most of the identified underwater landslides scar the slopes of the Selenga river delta, and the sediment-charged slopes of the shoaling eastern margin of the half-graben basins.
Most of the underwater landslides have a headwall occurring at water depths between 300 and 450 m; only a few occur at larger water depths.
All underwater landslides occur in areas in which gas hydrates have been inferred (i.e. based on the observation of bottom-simulating reflections on seismic data) or confirmed (i.e. by deep drilling or shallow coring). The clustering of many headwalls at a water depth that is not characterized by any distinct change in slope gradient or stratigraphy, but that is close to the stability limit of gas hydrates (i.e. ca. 380 m, for pure methane hydrates, under Lake Baikal conditions), suggests that the presence of the hydrates may be one of the most important controlling factors in conditioning the underwater slopes of Lake Baikal and rendering them unstable and prone to failure. The exact conditioning process remains, however, unclear as the hydrate reservoir in Lake Baikal is considered to have remained stable, even over relatively long time scales, in the absence of any important fluctuations in lake-level and in bottom-water temperature.