The northern California continental margin contains evidence of abundant subsurface gas and numerous seafloor features that suggest a causative link between gas expulsion and geomorphology. Analyses of seismic reflection, sidescan sonar, and high-resolution multibeam bathymetric data show that the occurrence of subbottom gas and the migration processes beneath the shelf differ from those beneath the slope. Subsurface gas, inferred from enhanced reflectors and other geophysical indicators, is spatially variable and related more to total depth and stratigraphy than to underlying structure, with the exception of one band of gas that follows the regional structural trend. Shallow depressions on the seafloor (pockmarks) are used to infer expulsion sites. The largest zone of acoustically impenetrable subsurface gas occurs between water depths of 100 m and 300 m, where expulsion features are rare. The upper slope (water depths 400-600 m) has a high concentration of pockmarks (diameter 10-20 m), in contrast to a near-absence of pockmarks at water depths shallower than 400 m. Of nearly 4000 pockmarks observed on sidescan sonar records, more than 95% are located in water depths deeper than 400 m. Bottom simulating reflectors (BSRs) on some seismic reflection profiles indicate the possible presence of gas hydrate. We find that gas and pore-fluid migration in the offshore Eel River Basin is: (1) correlated to surface morphology; (2) a contributor to seabed roughness; (3) a significant mode of sediment redistribution on the upper slope; and (4) potentially a factor in large slope failures.
Additional publication details
Subsurface gas offshore of northern California and its link to submarine geomorphology