Gulf of Mexico Seafloor Observatory

Greg Easson

Goals

To build and operate a multi-disciplinary seafloor observatory in the Gulf of Mexico that will provide real-time data to better understand the deep marine environment, predict changes to these environments and ensure continued health of these ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico.

Figure 1. Location of MC118, continental slope, northern Gulf of Mexico.

Figure 1. Location of MC118, continental slope, northern Gulf of Mexico.

Background

Woolsey Mound, a 1km-diameter carbonate-gas hydrate complex on the continental slope in the northern Gulf of Mexico (Figure 1), hosts the only seafloor observatory in the Gulf of Mexico. The observatory is located in a research reserve in Mississippi Canyon block 118. Active venting, outcropping hydrate, and a thriving chemosynthetic community recommend the site for study. Since 2005, the Gulf of Mexico Hydrates Research Consortium (GoMHRC) has been conducting multi-disciplinary studies to:

  • characterize the subsurface, seafloor and deep water-column at Woolsey Mound,
  • capture time in hydrates association and dissociation by monitoring changes within the Hydrate Stability Zone (HSZ),
  • capture the effects of gas hydrates' formation and dissociation on seafloor stability,
  • determine factors influencing subsurface fluid flow and their effects on stabilization/destabilization of gas hydrates,
  • establish the interrelationships between organisms at the vent site and association-dissociation of hydrates.

History

In 1999, the Gulf of Mexico Gas Hydrates Research Consortium (GoMHRC) was organized to consolidate both laboratory and field efforts in gas hydrates research in the Gulf of Mexico. The GoMHRC was established at and is administered by the University of Mississippi, through the Center for Marine Resources and Environmental Technology (CMRET). The primary objective of the GoMHRC is the design and emplacement of a seafloor observatory in the northern Gulf of Mexico to characterize and monitor activity in an area where gas hydrates are known to be present at, or just below, the sea-floor. Members of the GoMHRC include researchers, engineers, and technicians from universities, federal government agencies, and private companies.

Funding for the Gulf of Mexico Hydrates Research Consortium has been provided by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) (now Bureau of Ocean Energy Management BOEM) of the Department of the Interior, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) of the Department of Energy and the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology (NIUST) of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the Department of Commerce.

Accomplishments

Although not yet fully-functional, the Observatory project has produced a vast array of sensors and techniques, resulting in numerous accomplishments. Some highlights include:

  • Documentation of hydrate accumulation in fine sediments
  • Successful prediction of the location of hydrates in the shallow subsurface
  • Relationships of faulting to fluid transport/geochemistry
  • Time series geochemistry in shallow subsurface and water column
  • Documentation of micro- and macro-faunal distribution at MC118
  • Role of microbes in hydrate association and dissociation
  • Student opportunities/support
  • High resolution mapping of seafloor and features
  • Technology development and transfer
  • Baseline assessment of oil spill impact at MC118

A plan of the observatory is presented in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Major components of the Seafloor Observatory.

Figure 2. Major components of the Seafloor Observatory.

Collaborators

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management - DOI
National Energy Technology Laboratory - DOE
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - DOC



Contact Information

For more information, please contact Greg Easson.
E-mail: geasson@olemiss.edu
Phone: +1 (662) 915-7320