Methane oxidation in permeable sediments at hydrocarbon seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel, California
Abstract. A shallow-water area in the Santa Barbara Channel, California, known collectively as the Coal Oil Point seep field, is one of the largest natural submarine hydrocarbon emission areas in the world. Both gas and oil are seeping constantly through a predominantly sandy seabed into the ocean. This study focused on the methanotrophic activity within the surface sediments (0–15 cm) of the permeable seabed in the so-called Brian Seep area at a water depth of ∼10 m. Detailed investigations of the sediment biogeochemistry of active gas vents indicated that it is driven by fast advective transport of water through the sands, resulting in a deep penetration of oxidants (oxygen, sulfate). Maxima of microbial methane consumption were found at the sediment-water interface and in deeper layers of the sediment, representing either aerobic or anaerobic oxidation of methane, respectively. Methane consumption was relatively low (0.6–8.7 mmol m−2 d-1) in comparison to gas hydrate-bearing fine-grained sediments on the continental shelf. The low rates and the observation of free gas migrating through permeable coastal sediments indicate that a substantial proportion of methane can escape the microbial methane filter in coastal sediments.