164 Preliminary Report
Leg 164 was devoted to refining our understanding of the amounts and in situ characteristics of natural gas hydrate stored in marine sediments. Drilling on the Blake Ridge at Sites 994, 995, and 997 documented that finely disseminated gas hydrate occupies a minimum of 1% of the sedimentary section between 200 and 450 m below seafloor (mbsf). Some solid gas hydrate nodules also occur. Free gas is dispersed throughout a zone a few hundred meters thick below the gas hydrate-bearing zone. Coupled with geophysical data indicating that sedimentary gas hydrate occurs throughout a laterally extensive portion of the Blake Ridge, the results of Leg 164 confirm that enormous amounts of methane are contained in these sediments.
Sites 994, 995, and 997 were drilled to 700-750 mbsf on the Blake Ridge and penetrated through the predicted depth of the bottom-simulating reflector (BSR) into the sediments below. The Blake Ridge sediments consist largely of a monotonous sequence of nannofossil-rich clays that were deposited from contour currents at rates varying from 40 m/m.y. in the Pleistocene to 150-350 m/m.y. for the Miocene-Pliocene sequences. Minimal compositional or facies changes occur near the depth of the BSR (~450 m). Cores from all three sites are very gassy and underwent vigorous expansion, which resulted in low recovery. Some nodules of hydrate and one massive gas hydrate zone greater than 30 cm thick were recovered. Decomposition experiments on gas hydrate samples yielded volumetric ratios of gas to water of 130-160, and demonstrated that the gas filling the hydrates was ~99% methane. As anticipated, the ephemeral nature of gas hydrate under surface conditions made sampling difficult. Therefore, emphasis was placed on proxy sampling and downhole tool measurements that allow the in situ conditions of the gas hydrate to be reconstructed.
Closely spaced pore-water samples were taken because interstitial water chloride concentrations can be used to make quantitative estimates of the amount of gas hydrate present in the sediment before coring. During gas hydrate formation, water and methane are taken out of the pore waters, leaving the residual pore waters increasingly saline. Over time, locally elevated chloride concentrations associated with gas hydrate formation diffuse away. When gas hydrate in sediments decomposes during drilling and core recovery, water and gas are released back into the pore space, freshening the pore waters. Pore-water profiles from Sites 994, 995, and 997 are very similar and indicate three distinct chloride concentration zones: (1) a zone of progressive freshening with depth to ~200 mbsf, (2) a zone that extends to the approximate depth of the BSR (~450 mbsf) of highly variable chloride values characterized by local anomalously fresh values, and (3) a zone of nearly constant chloride beneath the BSR. These anomalies are interpreted to indicate that a minimum of 1% of the sedimentary section within the zone from 200 to 450 mbsf is filled with gas hydrate.
An unprecedented level of success was achieved using the pressure core sampler (PCS), a device that returns a short core to the sruface at formation pressures so that gasses are not lost. Gas volumes captured by the PCS indicate that gas concentrations are grossly in excess of gas saturation, thus demonstrating that free gas exists beneath the BSR. Gases also occur throughout the sedimentary section below.
Vertical seismic profiles were used to locate the precise depth of the BSR and indicated no significant lateral changes in velocity above the BSR. However, velocities as low as 1400 m/s were measured beneath the BSR at Site 997. Well-logs disclosed distinct zones of higher electrical resistivity and velocity that coincided with chloride anomaly zones indicative of gas hydrates. Preliminary well-log analysis of the resistivity data indicate that gas hydrate occupies 3%-5% of sediment volume throughout this zone. A minimum of 13 in situ temperature measurements were made in each hole to establish temperature gradients. Extrapolation of these thermal gradients to depth makes it possible to estimate the maximum depth at which gas hydrate is stable, based on experimentally-determined phase boundaries. The results indicate that the base of gas hydrate stability is ~30 m (Site 997) to ~100 m (Site 994) below the observed BSR depth.