Coastal and marine organic geochemistry—perspicacity and pertinacity in research

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Keith A. Kvenvolden
U.S. Geological Survey
Menlo Park, California

Wednesday, November 11, 1998
3:00 p.m.—Pacific Forum

Sustaining scientific programs in times of change is often difficult and always challenging. An example of a USGS program, sustained in part by perspicacity and pertinacity, is the coastal and marine organic geochemistry effort. Three study areas have been particularly rewarding—gas hydrate, hydrothermal petroleum, and environmental assessment—all to be discussed.

Since 1980 we have closely followed gas hydrate discoveries worldwide mainly through DSDP and ODP drilling, measured compositions of natural and synthetic gas hydrate, established tentatively the size of the worldwide gas-hydrate reservoir, and tried to predict the possible role of gas hydrate in global climate change.

In 1986 we discovered petroleum associated with polymetallic sulfide which was dredged from Escanaba Trough, offshore from northern California. Hydrothermal activity provided the heat for instantaneous petroleum formation and was the source of fluids for sulfide mineralization. Although not an economic resource, hydrothermal petroleum provides a proxy for understanding processes in the generation of conventional petroleum.

The Exxon Valdez supertanker spilled North Slope crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 1989. Tracking the fate of this spilled oil revealed that, in addition to weathered products from the spill, there were other residues on the coastlines with geochemical characteristics indicating oil products that originated from Monterey Formation source rocks of California. These residues likely entered Prince William Sound as a result of the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, which destroyed asphalt and fuel storage facilities around the Sound. Lessons learned in Alaska are now being applied in California.

Next: Evolutionary relationships of deep-sea hydrothermal vent and cold-water seep organisms

Last updated: December 19, 2000