Methane Derived Authigenic Carbonates from the Upper Continental Margin of the Bay of Biscay (France)

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Catherine Pierre, LOCEAN, Paris Cedex 05, France, Marie-Madeleine Blanc-Valleron, Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France and Stéphanie Dupré, IFREMER, Plouzané, France
Extensive seafloor carbonate pavements are present at water depth from 140 to 180 meters on the upper continental margin of the Bay of Biscay, 50 to 60 km away from the present-day coastline. They form at the seafloor meter-high sub-circular reliefs with a diameter from 10 m to 100 m that are surrounded by light brown silto-sandy unconsolidated sediments. All these structures are associated with active methane seeps that cover an area of 80km from N to S and up to 8km from W to E. These carbonates were sampled during the two cruises GAZCOGNE 1 (july-august 2013) and GAZCOGNE 2 (september 2013).

The carbonate crusts are porous sandstones, dark brown to black by impregnation with Fe-Mn oxides/hydroxides. Subseafloor concretions are homogenous light to medium grey fine-grained sandstones. The bulk carbonate content varies in the range 36-42 weight %. The carbonate mineralogy is dominated by aragonite that cements the detrital grains whereas calcite comes from the biogenic carbonates. Dolomite occurs in significant amount in a few samples. Circular cavities of 5 to 10 µm of diameter in the carbonate cement represent traces of gas bubbles; smaller holes in the aragonite crystals are due to carbonate dissolution by CO2 issued from aerobic oxidation of methane.

The oxygen isotopic compositions of the bulk carbonate (+1.7 to +4.5‰) and aragonite cement (-0.2 to +1.4‰) are lower than the values in equilibrium with the present-day temperature and salinity conditions. This indicates that the carbonate precipitated in mixtures of seawater and continental water, i.e. in a context of submarine groundwater discharge. The carbon isotopic compositions of the bulk carbonate (-51.9 to -38.2‰) and aragonite cement (-49.9 to -29.3‰) demonstrate that most carbon derived from methane oxidized as bicarbonate during microbial anaerobic oxidation of methane.

The GAZCOGNE study is co-funded by TOTAL and IFREMER as part of the PAMELA (Passive Margin Exploration Laboratories) scientific project.