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Terra Nova, 24, 255–272, 2012

Abstract

Cold seep systems comprise three structural elements: source, plumbing system, and venting structures or seeping features at or near the seabed. The transition from leakage to seepage, represented by the plumbing system, is the most complex and least understood part of the whole system. Quantifying the processes which operate in seep conduits is challenging because they are highly transient, and vary both in time and space. This paper reviews the literature to define our present understanding of complex plumbing systems and how they vary in active and passive continental margins. The plumbing systems are reviewed in the framework of tectonics, rock deformation mechanics and petro-physical evolution between the sediments. The review of the worldwide association of faults and seeps in diverse tectonic settings suggests that fault permeability is the most important controlling factor for the distribution and temporal and spatial variability of seeps. The key to unlocking the plumbing systems is to understand and quantify long-term fault behaviour in relation to fluid flow.