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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Mar. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00708

Strategy for detection and high-resolution characterization of authigenic carbonate cold seep habitats using ships and autonomous underwater vehicles on glacially-influenced terrain

 Terje Thorsnes1*,  Shyam Chand1, Harald Brunstad2, Aivo Lepland1 and Petter Lågstad3
  • 1Geological Survey of Norway, Norway
  • 2Lundin (Norway), Norway
  • 3Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, Norway

Cold seep habitats with authigenic carbonates and associated chemosynthetic communities in glacially-influenced terrains constitute an important part of the benthic ecosystems, but they are difficult to detect in large-scale seabed surveys. The areas they occupy are normally small, and survey platforms and sensors allowing high-resolution spatial characterization are necessary. We have developed a cold seep habitat mapping strategy that involves both ship and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) as platforms for multibeam echosounder, synthetic aperture sonar and a digital photo system. Water column data from the shipborne multibeam echosounder data are initially used to detect gas flares resulting from fluid flow from the seabed. The next phase involves mapping of flare areas by synthetic aperture sonar, mounted on an AUV. This yields an acoustic image with a resolution up to 2 cm over a swath of c. 350 metres, allowing detection of seep-related features on the seabed. The last phase involves digital photographing of the seabed, with the AUV moving close to the seabed, allowing recognition of bubble streams, seep-related features and giving a first order documentation of the fauna.
The strategy was applied to a 3775 km2 large area on the continental shelf, northern Norway. This is a passive continental margin, with thick deposits of oil- and gas-bearing sedimentary rocks. Extensive faulting and tilting of layers provide potential conduits for fluid flow. The seabed is glacially influenced with a highly-variable backscatter reflectivity. More than 200 gas flares have been identified, and a similar number of cold seep habitats have been characterized in high spatial detail.
Two case studies are shown. In the first area, there is a close spatial relation between active gas seepage and carbonate crust fields. The second case study shows that carbonate crust fields are not necessarily spatially associated with currently active seeps, but represent dormant or formerly active gas expulsion.
An important finding is that the bathymetric resolution of shipborne multibeam echosounders will often be too low to detect cold seep habitats. This means that a nested multi-resolution approach involving a multitude of platforms and sensors is required to provide the full picture.

Keywords: cold seep habitat, authigenic carbonate crusts, high-resolution, Autonomous under water vehicle, Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), water column data, Gas flares

Received: 16 Jun 2019; Accepted: 04 Nov 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Thorsnes, Chand, Brunstad, Lepland and Lågstad. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mr. Terje Thorsnes, Geological Survey of Norway, Trondheim, Norway, terje.thorsnes@ngu.no