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Focused fluid flow systems of the Zhongjiannan Basin and Guangle Uplift, South China Sea


Correspondence: Qiliang Sun, Key Laboratory of Marine Geology and Environment, Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qingdao 266071, China. E-mail:


In this article, we document a large number of focused fluid escape structures using high quality 2D seismic reflection data and multibeam bathymetry data from a poorly known area at the intersection of the northern South China Sea (SCS) and the western SCS. Three types of focused fluid escape systems are identified and described: mud volcanoes, pipes and associated pockmarks. The mud volcanoes occur singly or as clustered groups. The overpressure driving the mud volcanism is argued herein to be related to the generation of thermogenic hydrocarbons. The clustered distributions are related to localized tectonic uplift in the basin. Pipes mainly occur within the Guangle Uplift or accompany the mud volcano clusters. The pipes located within the Guangle Uplift are attributed to carbonate dissolution caused by hydrothermal fluids. Fluids ascended through these structures and were expelled at the palaeo-seabed or present seabed forming palaeo-pockmarks and present-day pockmarks. Some ‘mega-pockmarks’ show evidence of enlargement due to bottom currents. The marginal basins of the SCS are petroliferous, with attention gradually shifting to the deep-water area. Our results show that fluid migration must be taken into account when assessing seabed stability. This analysis also improves our understanding the petroleum geology in the study area, and is also useful for predicating where chemosynthetic ecosystems may be located.