Multifrequency geoacoustic imaging of fluid escape structures offshore Costa Rica: Implications for the quantification of seep processes



Quantification of fluid fluxes from cold seeps depends on accurate estimates of the spatial validity of flux measurements. These estimates are strongly influenced by the choice of geoacoustic mapping tools. Multibeam bathymetry, side-scan sonar, and Chirp subbottom profiler data of several mound-shaped cold seeps offshore central Costa Rica show great variety in morphology and structure although the features are only a few kilometers apart. Mound 11 (a 35 m high and 1000 m in diameter structure), situated in the SE of the study area, has an irregular morphology but a smooth surface on side-scan sonar data, while mound 12 (30 m high, 600 m across) is a cone of more regular outline but with a rough surface, and mound Grillo (5 m high, 500 m across) shows the same rough surface as mound 12 but without relief. Video observations and sediment cores indicate that the structures are formed by the precipitation of authigenic carbonates and indications for extensive mud extrusion are absent, except for one possible mudflow at mound 11. Different sonar frequencies result in variable estimates of the extent of these mounds with low frequencies suggesting much wider cold seeps, consequently overestimating fluid fluxes. The absence of mud volcanism compared to accretionary prisms where mud volcanism occurs is related to different tectonic styles: strong sediment overpressure and thrust faulting in typical accretionary prisms can generate mud volcanism, while subduction erosion and normal faulting (extension) of the overriding plate at the Costa Rican margin result in fluid venting driven by only slight fluid overpressures.