Sediment stress states and fluid dynamics: Matthew Hornbach’s research applies to methane hydrates, submarine landslides, and life at hydrothermal vents on the seafloor
December 14, 2006
Matthew Hornbach came to the Institute for Geophysics as a post-doctoral fellow in 2005 and then became a research scientist in June 2006. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wyoming in 2004.
He uses high-resolution 2D/3D seismic data in conjunction with other geophysical indicators to image, model, and ultimately link shallow geological structure with sediment stressstates and fluid dynamics in marine environments.
This research applies to an array of current scientific problems involving methane hydrates (icy substances containing methane at or under the seafloor) submarine landslides, and life at hydrothermal vents on the seafloor. Methane hydrates might one day be mined as fuel. But they also have a dark side. If the methane they contain were ever released to the air, greenhouse warming would increase.
One of the largest known methane hydrate reservoirs in the world is at Blake Ridge, about 300 km east of Charleston, South Carolina. Hornbach is trying to determine just how much methane hydrate is trapped there and what impacts it might have on climate if it were released to the air.
Hornbach wonders, “What are the key potential gas-release triggers, and are any of these triggers causing gas to release right now?”
Submarine landslides can trigger deadly tsunamis.What causes the landslides, though, is unclear.Working with colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey, Hornbach recently collected high resolution seismic images of the Cape Fear slide complex.
This slide, located about 300 km east of Cape Fear, North Carolina, is thought to have been the largest submarine landslide off the east coast. The goals of this project are to reconstruct the history of this slide, estimate the potential tsunami it generated, and from this, estimate the potential risk of future events.
Hornbach is also collaborating with the Institute’s Luc Lavier on this work. Hydrothermal vents on the seafloor spew chemicals and heat that support exotic biological communities in an otherwise dark, cold, nutrient-poor environment.
“We don’t have a clear understanding of the basic plumbing system vital for sustaining these biological communities,” Hornbach said. One of the goals of his research is to use 3D/4D seismic imaging techniques combined with fluid models to characterize the flow regime at methane seeps. Hornbach said, “My hope is that we may be able to use our results to predict where other sea floor chemosynthetic communities exist.“
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