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Featured article from geoscience journal

Marine Geology, 2011, Vol 289, Issue 1, p. 1-16
Giant pockmarks in a carbonate platform (Maldives, Indian Ocean)

Circular structures and depressions in carbonate platforms are known to represent karst chimneys or sinkholes which form as a response to rock solution. This formation mechanism is plausible for shallow-water carbonates which lie in the reach of meteoric diagenesis or fresh-water lenses. Circular structures which occur in deeper waters, however, need an alternative interpretation. Such an example of sea-floor depressions in more than 300. m deep waters occurs in the Inner Sea of the Maldives carbonate platform in the Indian Ocean. The structures were mapped with multibeam and Parasound, multi-channel seismics were used to link the depressions with structures at depth. The circular depressions have diameters of up to 3000. m and depths of up to 180. m. The craters are interpreted as pockmarks formed through the venting of gas and fluids. Gas and fluid lenses below the pockmarks are reflected by bright spots in the seismic sections as well as a reduction of the instantaneous frequency. These areas at depth are linked to chimneys connected to faults and drowned Oligocene carbonate banks. A model is presented that relates the different forms and sizes of the structures to distinct development stages of sea floor deformation to one process. Early stages of gas and fluid migration into the shallow part of the sedimentary succession induce formation of dome-shaped bodies. Initial gas and fluid escape to the sea floor is reflected by the formation of sand volcanoes and aligned small pockmarks. Active pockmarks are the deepest, and have the shape of truncated cones in cross section. Mature pockmarks are characterized by erosion of the flanks of the structure by bottom currents. Late stage pockmarks are bowl-shaped in cross section, and are to different degrees filled by drift sediments. Packages of strata revealing high reflection amplitudes and high interval velocities interpreted as microbially-mediated carbonate precipitates underlie some of the pockmarks. The pockmarks in the Maldives show that circular structures other than solution-related features can be abundant in carbonate platform deposits and that such structures may be more abundant in the geological record of carbonate platforms as previously thought. Pockmarks in the Maldives indicate that the archipelago is an example of a hydrocarbon system which consists of an isolated oceanic carbonate platform overlying a volcanic basement and lacustrine source rocks.