A unique isotopic fingerprint during sulfate-driven anaerobic oxidation of methane

Friday, 19 December 2014
Gilad Antler, University of Cambridge, Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, United Kingdom, Alexandra v Turchyn, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, Barak Herut, Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, Haifa, Israel and Orit Sivan, Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva, 84105, Israel
Bacterial sulfate reduction is responsible for the majority of anaerobic methane oxidation in modern marine sediments. This sulfate-driven AOM can often metabolize all the methane produced within marine sediments, preventing any from reaching the overlying ocean. In certain areas, however, methane concentrations are high enough to form bubbles, which can reach the seafloor, only partially metabolized through sulfate-driven AOM; these areas where methane bubbles into the ocean are called cold seeps, or methane seeps. We use the sulfur and oxygen isotopes of sulfate (d34SSO4 and d18OSO4) in locations where sulfate-driven AOM is occurring both in methane seeps as well as lower flux methane transition zones to show that in methane seeps, the d34SSO4 and d18OSO4 data during the coupled sulfate reduction fall into a very narrow range and with a close to linear relationship (slope 0.37± 0.01 (R^2= 0.98, n=52, 95% confidence interval). In the studied environments, considerably different physical properties exist, excluding the possibility that this linear relationship can be attributed to physical processes such as diffusion, advection or mixing of two end-members. This unique isotopic signature emerges during bacterial sulfate reduction by methane in ‘cold’ seeps and differs when sulfate is reduced by either organic matter oxidation or by a slower, diffusive flux of methane within marine sediments. We show also that this unique isotope fingerprint is preserved in the rock record in authigenic build-ups of carbonates and barite associated with methane seeps, and may serve as a powerful tool for identifying catastrophic methane release in the geological record.