We evaluate different hypotheses concerning the formation of a peculiar, flat-topped ridge at Rock Garden, offshore of the North Island of New Zealand. The coincidence of the ridge bathymetry with the depth at which gas hydrate stability intersects the seafloor has been previously used to propose that processes at the top of gas hydrate stability may cause seafloor erosion, giving rise to the flat ridge morphology. Two mechanisms that lead to increased fluid pressure (and sediment weakening) have previously been proposed: (1) periodic formation (association) and dissociation of gas hydrates during seafloor temperature fluctuations; and (2) dissociation of gas hydrates at the base of gas hydrate stability during ridge uplift. We use numerical models to test these hypotheses, as well as to evaluate whether the ridge morphology can develop by tectonic deformation during subduction of a seamount, without any involvement from gas hydrates. We apply a commonly-used 1D approach to model gas hydrate formation and dissociation, and develop a 2D mechanical model to evaluate tectonic deformation. Our results indicate that: (1) Tectonics (subduction of a seamount) may cause a temporary flat ridge morphology to develop, but this evolves over time and is unlikely to provide the main explanation for the ridge morphology; (2) Where high methane flux overwhelms the anaerobic oxidation of methane via sulphate reduction near the seafloor, short-period temperature fluctuations (but on timescales of years, not months as proposed originally) in the bottom water can lead to periodic association and dissociation of a small percentage of gas hydrate in the top of the sediment column. However, the effect of this on sediment strength is likely to be small, as evidenced by the negligible change in computed effective pressure; (3) The most likely mechanism to cause sediment weakening, leading to seafloor erosion, results from the interaction of gas hydrate stability with tectonic uplift of the ridge, provided bulk permeability strongly decreases with increasing hydrate content. Rather than overpressure developing from dissociation of hydrates at the base of gas hydrate stability (as previously thought), we found that the weakening is caused by focusing of gas hydrate formation at shallow sediment levels. This creates large fluid pressures and can lead to negative effective pressures near the seafloor, reducing the sediment strength. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
- gas hydrates
- seafloor erosion