Methane discharged at gas hydrate site, Gulf of California. (Pic credit: S. Joye/Schmid Ocean Institute)

The Earth’s subsurface hosts enormous volumes of hydrocarbons, particularly methane. They are trapped in shallow sediments, sequestered as hydrates and permafrost, or naturally escaping through cold seepage.

Cold seeps release hydrocarbons in all oceans. These seeps interact physically, chemically, and biologically with the surrounding environment. These interactions, increasingly regarded as critical in the global carbon cycle, remain underestimated and poorly understood.

We explore cold seeps from local basins to the scale of the Earth system, to know more about the processes that govern methane release in the geological past and nowadays.

A great effort is needed to fully understand seeps characteristics, formation mechanisms, and dynamics. This understanding can be obtained only by integrating multidisciplinary data at multi-temporal and multi-spatial scales. Without knowing more in detail the processes associated with cold seeps, predictions on their role in the oceans and for the climate will always suffer a higher uncertainty.

We use a multidisciplinary, integrated approach to resolve the genesis and evolution of cold seepages such as methane discharge areas, methane-derived carbonates, and mud volcanoes.

Evidence of past seepage, recorded by proxies such as methane-derived authigenic carbonates, holds a large amount of time-integrated information about the processes governing seep dynamics. This information must be assessed and compared to long-term observatory studies of hydrocarbon seeps currently active in a rapidly changing climate. Ultimately, past records and modern examples are the foundations to understand the mutual dependences between the global environment and seepage, and to develop robust models to forecast future scenarios.