Free hydrocarbon gas, gas hydrate, and authigenic minerals in chemosynthetic communities of the northern Gulf of Mexico continental slope: Relation to microbial processes

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Research submersibles and piston cores were used to sample two chemosynthetic communities in the Gulf of Mexico continental slope at ∼ 540 m water depth. Vent gas from the deep subsurface is the starting material from which other carbon pools are derived, including gas hydrate, free hydrocarbon gas in sediment, and authigenic carbonate rock. Gas crystallizes as exposed mounds of structure II gas hydrate and as massive vein-fillings in hemipelagic mud. Venting rates from gas hydrate mounds periodically increase after the temperature of the bottom water increases. Gas hydrate decomposition is largely restricted to exposed hydrate and at shallow depth in sediment. Overall, gas hydrate is accumulating, not decomposing at study sites. Most free gas in sediment appears to be destroyed in situ by anaerobic microbial oxidation in chemosynthetic communities, leading to sequestration of carbon as abundant authigenic carbonate rock depleted in C. Free methane is rapidly oxidized leaving residual methane enriched in C. Some in situ microbial CO reduction occurs, and methane depleted in C mixes with vent methane enriched in C. The C -C hydrocarbons of vent gas initially most depleted in C (ethane, isobutane, isopentane) are least affected by microbial oxidation, whereas hydrocarbons initially enriched in C (propane, normal butane, normal pentane) are most affected. Anaerobic microbial oxidation of all C -C hydrocarbon gases, not only methane, may be significant in chemosynthetic communities. Microbial processes contribute to the development and stability of chemosynthetic communities by providing required H S. Anaerobic microbial processes lead to deposition of diagnostic authigenic minerals related to the carbon (carbonate minerals) and sulfur cycles (pyrite, elemental sulfur), altering the seafloor. Seafloor cementation favors fauna such as chemosynthetic tubeworms and seep mussels by forming carbonate hardgrounds on an otherwise unfavorable mud-dominated seafloor. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. 13 13 13 13 13 13 2 2 5 1 5 2

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Chemical Geology

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