|Valentine, D.L., Reddy, C.M., Farwell, C., Hill, T.M., Pizarro, O., Yoerger, D.R., Camilli, R., Nelson, R.K., Peacock, E.E., Bagby, S.C., Clarke, B.A., Roman, C.N., and Soloway, M., Asphalt volcanoes as a potential source of methane to late Pleistocene coastal waters., Nature Geoscience 3(5), 345-348., 2010|
Every year, natural petroleum seepage emits 0.2-2 Tg of oil to the ocean. Significant oil seepage can build large underwater mounds, consisting of tar deposits with morphologies similar to volcanic lava flows, known as asphalt volcanoes. Such events are typically accompanied by large fluxes of the greenhouse gas methane. Marine sediments from the Santa Barbara basin, California, contain a record of elevated methane concns., anoxia and tar deposition during the Pleistocene epoch that had been attributed to dissoln. of methane hydrates. However, the region is known to have exhibited oil seepage in the past. Here, we document the discovery of seven extinct asphalt volcanoes off the coast of southern California. The morphol. of the deposits and geochem. of samples taken from the two largest structures supports their classification as asphalt volcanoes, derived from a common source. We est. that the two structures resulted from seepage of 0.07-0.4 Tg of oil, accompanied by the emission of 0.35-1.8 Tg of methane. Radiocarbon dating of carbonate deposits entrained with the asphalt indicates formation of the volcanoes between 44 and 31 kyr ago. The timing and vol. of erupted hydrocarbons from the asphalt structures can explain some or all of the documented methane release and tar accumulation in the Santa Barbara basin during the Pleistocene.