A method for positioning and characterizing plumes of bubbles from marine gas seeps using an 18 kHz scientific split-beam echo sounder (SBES) was developed and applied to acoustic observations of plumes of presumed methane gas bubbles originating at approximately 1400 m depth in the northern Gulf of Mexico. A total of 161 plume observations from 27 repeat surveys were grouped by proximity into 35 clusters of gas vent positions on the seafloor. Profiles of acoustic target strength per vertical meter of plume height were calculated with compensation for both the SBES beam pattern and the geometry of plume ensonification. These profiles were used as indicators of the relative fluxes and fates of gas bubbles acoustically observable at 18 kHz and showed significant variability between repeat observations at time intervals of 1 h–7.5 months. Active gas venting was observed during approximately one third of the survey passes at each cluster. While gas flux is not estimated directly in this study owing to lack of bubble size distribution data, repeat surveys at active seep sites showed variations in acoustic response that suggest relative changes in gas flux of up to 1 order of magnitude over time scales of hours. The minimum depths of acoustic plume observations at 18 kHz averaged 875 m and frequently coincided with increased amplitudes of acoustic returns in layers of biological scatterers, suggesting acoustic masking of the gas bubble plumes in these layers. Minimum plume depth estimates were limited by the SBES field of view in only five instances.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

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Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems


American Geophysical Union Publications

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Journal Article