Extensive barite deposits on a seepage site along the offshore San Clemente Fault, Mexican Borderland
Thursday, 17 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
A 6 km-long section of San Clemente Fault Zone was recently mapped with an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, 53 km south of the U.S.-Mexican border in ~1850 m water depth. The surface expression of the fault zone as well as patches of especially rough seafloor texture on both flanks of the fault are distinctively recognized in 1-m resolution bathymetry. On the SW side of the fault, apparently accreted ovoid mounds 10 to 30 meters in diameter and up to 11 m high cover up to 50% of the seafloor within a restricted 0.43 km2 area. In contrast, on the NE side similar mounds are identified along outcropping bedding planes, suggesting that on the NE side mound formation and distribution is stratigraphically controlled. On a dive with the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts we observed variably colored ~1 m-sized material clusters accreted onto the sides and top of the mounds. Some clusters consist of white, fragile, vertical spires, suggesting active upward growth of chemical precipitates. The lightly colored clusters are partially covered with gelatinous and filamentous bacterial mats on their uppermost surfaces. The mounds broke easily when prodded with the ROV arm. X-ray powder diffraction analyses show the mounds are composed of barite. Black varnish variably covers the mounds and may be related to time since the last episode of barite precipitation in a particular area. Except for thickets of tubeworms, mounds are notably devoid of attached fauna. Concentration of methane in sediment pore fluids extracted from push cores collected at the base of a tubeworm thicket was low, in the order of micromolar to undetectable Sulfur isotopic compositions of seven rock samples range between δ34S +20.1‰ to +27.5‰, indicating the sulfate in barite is mainly seawater-derived (δ34S +21) which has undergone a small degree of sulfur reduction. Overall, barite deposits covered 14% of the area within a 500 m wide band along the SW side of the fault, and 22% within a 650 m wide band on the NE side. This pattern may suggest that massive barite deposits along the San Clemente Fault could be a frequent occurrence given their high abundance on this randomly sampled short section of the fault zone.