GOM Seafloor Observatory

The Center for Marine Resources and Environmental Technology (CMRET) at the University of Mississippi established the Gulf of Mexico Hydrates Research Consortium in 2001 to study gas hydrate mounds and active gaseous hydrocarbon vents in the Gulf of Mexico. The Consortium is composed of gas hydrate experts from most of the major Gulf Coast universities along with oceanographic institutes including Woods Hole and Scripps. One of the main purposes of the program is to better understand the relationships between gas hydrates and episodes of sediment instability that may pose a threat to the petroleum industry’s infrastructure and safety of operations.

The Consortium program involves the development of a permanent observatory to monitor the dissociation and accumulation of gas hydrates and impacts on the adjacent seafloor, water column and marine biota. Design aspects have been discussed in detail by some of the world’s foremost experts in appropriate fields at several workshops held during the past several years. The site selected for the observatory is in Mississippi Canyon Block 118 in 2,500 to 3,000 feet of water.

The observatory has provided physical and chemical information concerning changes in gas hydrate deposits, active gas vents, seafloor stability, and the environmental character of the area. It includes acoustic sensors that monitor seismicity and ambient noise, and geochemical and microbiological sensors to study fluid venting, hydrate formation and dissociation, and other environmental changes at the site. Funding for the program has been provided by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Lab, and the Naval Research Lab.