Modeling sulfate reduction in methane hydrate-bearing continental margin sediments : does a sulfate-methane transition require anaerobic oxidation of methane?
Pohlman, John W.
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The sulfate-methane transition (SMT), a biogeochemical zone where sulfate and methane are metabolized, is commonly observed at shallow depths (1–30 mbsf) in methane-bearing marine sediments. Two processes consume sulfate at and above the SMT, anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) and organoclastic sulfate reduction (OSR). Differentiating the relative contribution of each process is critical to estimate methane flux into the SMT, which, in turn, is necessary to predict deeper occurrences of gas hydrates in continental margin sediments. To evaluate the relative importance of these two sulfate reduction pathways, we developed a diagenetic model to compute the pore water concentrations of sulfate, methane, and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC). By separately tracking DIC containing 12C and 13C, the model also computes δ13C-DIC values. The model reproduces common observations from methane-rich sediments: a well-defined SMT with no methane above and no sulfate below and a δ13C-DIC minimum at the SMT. The model also highlights the role of upward diffusing 13C-enriched DIC in contributing to the carbon isotope mass balance of DIC. A combination of OSR and AOM, each consuming similar amounts of sulfate, matches observations from Site U1325 (Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 311, northern Cascadia margin). Without AOM, methane diffuses above the SMT, which contradicts existing field data. The modeling results are generalized with a dimensional analysis to the range of SMT depths and sedimentation rates typical of continental margins. The modeling shows that AOM must be active to establish an SMT wherein methane is quantitatively consumed and the δ13C-DIC minimum occurs. The presence of an SMT generally requires active AOM.
Author Posting. © American Geophysical Union, 2011. This article is posted here by permission of American Geophysical Union for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems 12 (2011): Q07006, doi:10.1029/2011GC003501.