Past methane release events and environmental conditions at the upper continental slope of the South China Sea: constraints by seep carbonates

Han, Xiqiu; Suess, Erwin; Liebetrau, Volker; Eisenhauer, Anton; Huang, Yongyang
October 2014
International Journal of Earth Sciences;Oct2014, Vol. 103 Issue 7, p1873
Academic Journal
Authigenic carbonates and seep biota are archives of seepage history and record paleo-environmental conditions at seep sites. We obtained the timing of past methane release events at the northeastern slope of the South China Sea based on U/Th dating of seep carbonates and seep bivalve fragments from three sites located at 22°02′-22°09′N, 118°43′-118°52′E (water depths from 473 to 785 m). Also, we were able to reconstruct the paleo-bottom water temperatures by calculating the equilibrium temperature using the ages, the corresponding past δO of seawater (δO) and the δO of the selected samples formed in contact with bottom seawater with negligible deep fluid influence. A criterion consists of mineralogy, redox-sensitive trace elements and U/Th-isotope systematics is proposed to identify whether the samples were formed from pore water or have been influenced by deep fluid. Our results show that all methane release events occurred between 11.5 ± 0.2 and 144.5 ± 12.7 ka, when sea level was about 62-104 m lower than today. Enhanced methane release during low sea-level stands seems to be modulated by reduced hydrostatic pressure, increased incision of canyons and increased sediment loads. The calculated past bottom water temperature at one site (Site 3; water depth: 767-771 m) during low sea-level stands 11.5 and 65 ka ago ranges from 3.3 to 4.0 °C, i.e., 1.3 to 2.2 °C colder than at present. The reliability of δO of seep carbonates and bivalve shells as a proxy for bottom water temperatures is critically assessed in light of O-enriched fluids that might be emitted from gas hydrate and/or clay dehydration. Our approach provides for the first time an independent estimate of past bottom water temperatures of the upper continental slope of the South China Sea.


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