Sustained in situ measurements of dissolved oxygen, methane and water transport processes in the benthic boundary layer at MC118, northern Gulf of Mexico

TitleSustained in situ measurements of dissolved oxygen, methane and water transport processes in the benthic boundary layer at MC118, northern Gulf of Mexico
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsMartens, CS, Mendlovitz, HP, Seim, H, Lapham, L, D'Emidio, M
Date Publishedjul
Type of ArticleArticle
KeywordsROV Jason (Remotely Operated Vehicle)

Within months of the BP Macondo Wellhead blowout, elevated methane concentrations within the water column revealed a significant retention of light hydrocarbons in deep waters plus corresponding dissolved oxygen (DO) deficits. However, chemical plume tracking efforts were hindered by a lack of in situ monitoring capabilities. Here, we describe results from in situ time-series, lander-based investigations of physical and biogeochemical processes controlling dissolved oxygen, and methane at Mississippi Canyon lease block 118 (similar to 18 km from the oil spill) conducted shortly after the blowout through April 2012. Multiple sensor arrays plus open-cylinder flux chambers ({\{}''{\}}chimneys{\{}''{\}}) deployed from a benthic lander collected oxygen, methane, pressure, and current speed and direction data within one meter of the seafloor. The ROVARD lander system was deployed for an initial 21-day test experiment (9/13/2010-10/04/2010) at 882 m depth before a longer 160-day deployment (10/24/2011-4/01/2012) at 884 m depth. Temporal variability in current directions and velocities and water temperatures revealed strong influences of bathymetrically steered currents and overlying along-shelf flows on local and regional water transport processes. DO concentrations and temperature were inversely correlated as a result of water mass mixing processes. Flux chamber measurements during the 160-day deployment revealed total oxygen utilization (TOU) averaging 11.6 mmol/m(2) day. Chimney DO concentrations measured during the 21-day deployment exhibited quasi-daily variations apparently resulting from an interaction between near inertial waves and the steep topography of an elevated scarp immediately adjacent to the 21-day deployment site that modulated currents at the top of the chimney. Variability in dissolved methane concentrations suggested significant temporal variability in gas release from nearby hydrocarbon seeps and/or delivery by local water transport processes. Free-vehicle (lander) monitoring over time scales of months to years utilizing in situ sensors can provide an understanding of processes controlling water transport, respiration and the fate and impacts of accidental and natural gas and oil releases. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.