A number of extensive methane plumes and active methane seeps associated with large blocks of methane hydrates exposed on the seafloor strongly indicate extremely high methane flux and large accumulations of methane hydrate in shallow sediments of the Umitaka spur and Joetsu knoll of the Joetsu basin 30 km off Joetsu city, Niigata Prefecture. Crater-like depressions, incised valleys, and large but inactive pockmarks also indicate methane activities over the spur and knoll. These features imply strong expulsions of methane gas or methane-bearing fluids, and perhaps lifting and floating-up of large volumes of methane hydrate to the sea surface.
High heat flow, ∼100 mK/m, deposition of organic-rich strata, ∼1.0 to 1.5%TOC, and Pliocene-Quaternary inversion-tectonics along the eastern margin of the Japan Sea facilitate thermal maturation of organic matters, and generation and migration of light-hydrocarbons through fault conduits, and accumulation of large volumes of methane as methane hydrate in shallow sediments. Microbial methane generation has also contributed to reinforcing the methane flux of the Joetsu basin. Regional methane flux as observed by the depth of the sulfate-methane interface (SMI) is significantly high, < 1 m to 3 m, when compared to classic gas hydrate fields of Blake Ridge, 15 to 20 m, and Nankai trough, 3 to 15 m. δ13C of methane hydrate and seep gases are mostly within -30 to -50‰, the range of thermogenic methane, while dissolved methane of the interstitial waters a few kilometers away from seep sites are predominated by microbial with δ13C of -50 to -100‰.
Seismic profiles have revealed fault-related, well-developed gas chimney structures, 0.2 to 3.5 km in diameter, on the spur and knoll. The structures are essential for conveying methane from deep-seated sources to shallow depths as well as for accumulating methane hydrate (gas chimney type deposits). The depth of BSR, which represents the base of gas hydrate stability (BGHS), on the spur and knoll is generally 0.20 to 0.23 seconds in two-way-travel time, whereas the BSRs in gas chimneys occur at 0.14 to 0.18 seconds, exhibiting a sharp pull-up structure. The apparent shallow BGHS is due to the accumulation of large volumes of high-velocity methane hydrate in gas chimneys.
The depth to BGHS is estimated to be 115 m on an experimentally determined stability diagram, based on an observed thermal gradient of 100 mK/m. Then the velocity of the sediments on the Umitaka spur is calculated to be 1000 m/s, which is anomalously low compared to normal pelagic mud of 1600-1700 m/s. This exciting finding leads to the important implication that sediments of the Umitaka spur contain significant amounts of free gas, although the sediments are well within the stability field of methane hydrate. The reasons for the existence of free gas in the methane hydrate stability field are not fully explained, but we propose the following possible mechanisms for the unusual co-existence of methane hydrate and free-gas in clay-silt of the spur. (i) High salinity effect of residual waters, (ii) degassing from ascending fluids, (iii) bound water effect and deficiency of free-waters, and (iv) micro-pore effect of porous media. All of these processes relate to the development of gas hydrate deposits of the Umitaka spur.
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