Origin of lipid biomarkers in mud volcanoes from the Alboran Sea, western Mediterranean
Abstract. Mud volcanoes (MVs) are the most prominent indicators of active methane/hydrocarbon venting at the seafloor on both passive and active continental margins. Their occurrence in the western Mediterranean is patent at the West Alboran Basin, where numerous MVs develop overlaying a major sedimentary depocentre containing overpressured shales. Although some of these MVs have been studied, the detailed biogeochemistry of expelled mud so far has not been examined in detail. This work provides the first results on the composition and origin of organic matter, anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) processes and general characteristics on MV dynamics using lipid biomarkers as the main tool. Lipid biomarker analysis was performed on MV expelled material (mud breccias) and interbedded hemipelagic sediments from Perejil, Kalinin and Schneider's Heart MVs located in the northwest margin of the Alboran Sea. The n alkane distributions and n alkane-derived indices (CPI and ACL), in combination with the epimerization degree of hopanes (22S/(22S+22R)) indicate that all studied mud breccia have a similar biomarker composition consisting of mainly thermally immature organic matter with an admixture of petroleum-derived compounds. This concordant composition indicates that common source strata must feed all three studied MVs.
The past or present AOM activity was established using lipid biomarkers specific for anaerobic methanotrophic archaea (irregular isoprenoids and dialkyl glycerol diethers) and the depleted carbon isotope composition (δ13C) of crocetane/phytane. The presence of these lipid biomarkers, together with the low amounts of detected glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers, is consistent with the dominance of anaerobic methanotrophs of the ANME-2 over ANME-1, at least in mud breccia from Perejil MVs. In contrast, the scarce presence or lack of these AOM-related lipid biomarkers in sediments from Kalinin and Schneider's Heart MVs, suggests that no recent active methane seepage has occurred at these sites. Moreover, the observed methane concentrations support the current activity of Perejil MV, and the very low methane seepage activity in Kalinin and Schneider's Heart MVs.