A regional assessment of potential environmental hazards to and limitations on petroleum development of the Southeastern United States Atlantic continental shelf, slope, and rise, offshore North Carolina

Open-File Report 82-136

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More than 11,000 km of high-resolution seismic-reflection data, 325 km of mid-range sidescan-sonar data, and 500 km of long-range sidescan-sonar data were examined and used to construct an environmental geology map of the Continental Shelf, Slope, and Rise for the area of the U.S. Atlantic margin between lats. 32?N. and 37?N. Hardgrounds and two faults described in previous literature also are shown on the map. On the Continental Shelf, at least two faults, the Helena Banks fault and the White Oak lineament, appear to be tectonic in origin. However, a lack of historical seismicity associated with these faults indicates that they are probably not active at the present time. Hardgrounds are widely scattered but are most abundant in Onslow Bay. Although paleostream channels are common nearshore, they do not appear to be common on the central and outer shelf except off Albemarle Sound where extensive Pleistocene, Pliocene, and late Miocene channels extend across the shelf. Mobile bottom sediments are confined mainly to the shoals off Cape Romain, Cape Fear, Cape Lookout, and Cape Hatteras. Elsewhere the sand cover is thin, and older more indurated rocks are present in subcrop. No slope-instability features were noted on the Florida-Hatteras slope off North Carolina. The lack of features indicates that this slope is relatively stable. Evidence for scour by strong currents is ubiquitous on the northern Blake Plateau although deep-water reefs are sparse. The outer edge of the plateau is dominated by a major growth fault and numerous splay and antithetic faults. These faults are the product of salt tectonism in the Carolina trough and thus are not associated with seismicity. Displacements observed near the sea floor and breached diapirs offshore indicate that the main fault is still moving. Associated with the faults are collapse features that are interpreted to be caused by karst solution and cavernous porosity in Eocene and Oligocene limestones at depth. Major slumps have taken place in two large areas of the Continental Slope. Seismic-reflection profiles of the southern area, centered on the lower slope at 1at. 33?N., long. 76?W., show a 80-m-hlgh scarp in which bedding has been truncated. Rotational slump faults are present in this area on the middle and upper slope. Sidescan images show that large blocks have slid downslope from the scarp face, furrowing the bottom. High-resolution (3.5-kHz) records show that the rotational slump faults upslope are active. The association of these slumps and the scarps with salt diapirs suggests subsidence accompanying salt tectonism as the cause. Seismic-reflection records over the northern area, at about fat. 36?20'N., long. 74?40'W., show two steep scarps, each about 225 m high on the upper and middle-slope. These slump scars and an absence of Pleistocene sediments indicate that large blocks of the slope have been removed by slumping. The slope north of fat. 35?N. is highly dissected by canyons. Mid-range sidescan-sonar records suggest that the canyons are the product of mass wasting and have probably formed largely by slumping. Sediments in a wide zone on the upper rise are highly disturbed and faulted owing to salt tectonism. Twenty-six salt diapirs are mapped, as is a zone of disturbed bottom related to salt tectonism. An area of frozen bottom (clathrate) under which shallow free gas is trapped underlies the outer Blake Plateau, the slope, and the upper rise. Although the hazards of drilling into or through clathrates have not been tested, the release of gas from beneath this frozen layer may prove to be a primary hazard to exploration.

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A regional assessment of potential environmental hazards to and limitations on petroleum development of the Southeastern United States Atlantic continental shelf, slope, and rise, offshore North Carolina
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey,
71 p., 1 over-size sheet, maps ;28 cm.