During June 1998, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of Mississippi Marine Minerals Technology Center (MMTC) conducted a 12-day cruise in the Mississippi Canyon region of the Gulf of Mexico (Fig. 1). The R/V Tommy Munro, owned by the Marine Research Institute of the University of Southern Mississippi, was chartered for the cruise. The general objective was to acquire very high resolution seismic-reflection data across of the upper and middle continental slope (200-1200-m water depths) to study the acoustic character, distribution and potential effects of gas hydrates within the shallow subsurface, extending from the sea floor down to the base of the gas-hydrate stability zone.
The Gulf of Mexico is well known for hydrocarbon resources that include petroleum and related gases. Areas of the Gulf that lie in waters deeper than about 250 m potentially have conditions (e.g., pressure, temperature, near-surface gas content, etc.) that are right for the shallow-subsurface formation of the ice-like substance (gas and water) known as gas hydrate (Kvenvolden, 1993). Gas hydrates have previously been sampled in sea-floor cores and observed as massive mounds in several parts of the northern Gulf, including the Mississippi Canyon region (e.g., Anderson et al., 1992). Extensive seismic data have been recorded in the Gulf, in support of commercial drilling efforts, but few very high resolution data exist in the public domain to aid in gas-hydrate studies. Studies of long-term interest include those on the resource potential of gas hydrates, the geologic hazards associated with dissociation and formation of hydrates, and the impact, if any, of gas-hydrate dissociation on atmospheric warming (i.e., via release of methane, a "greenhouse" gas).
Several very high resolution seismic systems (surface-towed, deep-towed, and sea-floor) were used during the cruise to test the feasibility of using such data for detailed structural (geometric) and stratigraphic (physical property) analyses based on the acoustic data. The cruise was conducted in two regions, on opposite flanks of the Mississippi Canyon, where gas hydrates are known and suspected from prior coring and seismic operations (e.g., Neurauter and Bryant, 1989). The regions are also characterized by thick surficial, relatively young (Pleistocene and younger) sediments. Swath-bathymetry data (Fig. 2) show extensive sea-floor faults, piercement features, and slumps—features whose development could potentially be related to gas hydrates. The specific objectives of the cruise were (a) to image the gas-hydrate stability zone across the continental margin to document bottom-simulating reflections (BSRs) and changes in geometry of the hydrate stability zone; (b) to image known hydrate features (with several seismic systems) to estimate physical properties for hydrate and non-hydrate areas; (c) to outline the shallow structures of the hydrate stability zone to ascertain their potential effects on the formation/distribution of hydrates and on stability of the sea floor; and (d) to estimate, if possible, the amounts of hydrates present in the shallow sub surface.
During the cruise about 850 km of multichannel and single-channel seismic data were recorded. Seismic measurements at nine ocean-bottom seismometer (OBS) stations were recorded for several of the multichannel tracklines (see Fig. 3 in report). The following report describes the field operations and equipment systems employed, gives two examples of ship-board seismic records, and outlines a few preliminary results.