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Harmon, N, Rychert C, Agius M, Tharimena S, Le Bas T, Kendall JM, Constable S.  2018.  Marine geophysical investigation of the chain fracture zone in the equatorial Atlantic from the PI-LAB experiment. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth. 123:11016-11030.   10.1029/2018jb015982   AbstractWebsite

The Chain Fracture Zone is a 300-km-long transform fault that offsets the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. We analyzed new multibeam bathymetry, backscatter, gravity, and magnetic data with 100% multibeam bathymetric data over the active transform valley and adjacent spreading segments as part of the Passive Imaging of the Lithosphere Asthenosphere Boundary (PI-LAB) Experiment. Analyses of these data sets allow us to determine the history and mode of crustal formation and the tectonic evolution of the transform system and adjacent ridges over the past 20Myr. We model the total field magnetic anomaly to determine the age of the crust along the northern ridge segment to better establish the timing of the variations in the seafloor fabric and the tectonic-magmatic history of the region. Within the active transform fault zone, we observe four distinct positive flower structures with several en echelon fault scarps visible in the backscatter data. We find up to -10mGal residual Mantle Bouguer Anomaly in the region of the largest positive flower structure within the transform zone suggesting crustal thickening relative to the crustal thinning typically observed in fracture zones in the Atlantic. The extensional/compressional features observed in the Chain Transform are less pronounced than those observed further north in the Vema, St. Paul, and Romanche and may be due to local ridge segment adjustments.

Constable, S, Kowalczyk P, Bloomer S.  2018.  Measuring marine self-potential using an autonomous underwater vehicle. Geophysical Journal International. 215:49-60.   10.1093/gji/ggy263   AbstractWebsite

The marine self-potential (SP) method is used to explore for hydrothermal venting and associated seafloor mineralization. Measurements are commonly made in deep water using instruments towed close to the seafloor, which requires dedicated ship time, is limited to slow speeds, and is subject to navigation errors. Instead, we mounted a three-axis electric field receiver on an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), and tested the method with data collected in the Iheya area of the Okinawa Trough, off Japan. Parts of this prospect have documented hydrothermal venting and seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) deposits. An International Submarine Engineering Limited explorer-class AUV was fitted with a controlled-source electromagnetic (CSEM) amplifier and logging system, modified to collect DC SP data using silver chloride electrodes on approximately 1 m dipoles. A 1 km x 1 km area was surveyed with a flight pattern of six lines, collected three times to assess repeatability and noise levels. The entire data set was collected in a single day on station with a 10 hr AUV deployment. Flying height was 70 m, navigation errors were less than 3 m, collection speed was 1.1 m s(-1) and electric field noise levels were less than 5 mu V m(-1). Localized anomalies of 0.3 mV m(-1) were observed, from which potentials were estimated using regularized inversion, yielding negative SP anomalies of 15-25 mV. Modelling electric field data as dipoles shows that the negative poles causing the anomalies are localized near the seafloor with a diffuse return current deeper than 1000 m below seafloor. Apparent conductivities as high as 30 S m(-1) were derived from CSEM data collected during the same deployment, which strongly suggests that SMS mineralization is associated with one of the SP anomalies, although the localization near the seafloor and the lack of a dipolar signal suggest that the causative mechanism for the SP anomalies is due to hydrothermal venting. In either case, we have demonstrated that AUV-mounted instrument systems are an efficient, effective and low noise means of collecting marine SP data.

Sherman, D, Constable SC.  2018.  Permafrost extent on the Alaskan Beaufort shelf from surface-towed controlled-source electromagnetic surveys. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth. 123:7253-7265.   10.1029/2018jb015859   AbstractWebsite

We have developed a surface-towed electric dipole-dipole system capable of operating in shallow water and deployable from small vessels. Our system uses electromagnetic energy from a modulated manmade source to interrogate the underlying resistivity structure of the seafloor. We used this system in the summers of 2014 and 2015 to map subsea ice-bearing permafrost on the Beaufort shelf along 200km of coastline, from Tigvariak Island to Harrison Bay. Permafrost is resistive and was found to be anisotropic, likely due to interbedded layers of frozen and unfrozen sediment. Maps of depth to permafrost and its thickness were produced from electrical resistivity inversions and results compared to borehole logs in the area. We observed elevated resistivity values offshore the Sagavanirktok River outflow, supporting the idea that fresh groundwater flow has a preserving effect on submerged permafrost. This system provides a cost effective method that could be used to further quantify permafrost extent, provide a baseline for measurements of future degradation, and provide observational constraints to aid in permafrost modeling studies.

Barak, O, Key K, Constable S, Ronen S.  2018.  Recording active-seismic ground rotations using induction-coil magnetometers. Geophysics. 83:P19-P42.   10.1190/geo2017-0281.1   AbstractWebsite

Most of the current rotational sensing technology is not geared toward the recording of seismic rotations' amplitudes and frequencies. There are few instruments that are designed for rotational seismology, and the technology for building them is currently being developed. There are no mass industrial producers of seismic rotation sensors as there are for geophones, and only one current sensor model can be deployed on the ocean bottom. We reviewed some current rotational-seismic acquisition technologies, and developed a new method of recording rotations using an existing, robust and field-deployable technology that had seen extensive use in large exploration surveys: induction-coil magnetometers. We conducted an active seismic experiment, in which we found that magnetometers could be used to record seismic rotations. We converted the magnetometer data to rotation-rate data, and validated them by comparing the waveforms and amplitudes with rotation rates recorded by electrokinetic rotation sensors.

Weitemeyer, K, Constable S, Shelander D, Haines S.  2017.  Mapping the resistivity structure of Walker Ridge 313 in the Gulf of Mexico using the marine CSEM method. Marine and Petroleum Geology. 88:1013-1031.   10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2017.08.039   AbstractWebsite

A marine controlled source electromagnetic (CSEM) campaign was carried out in the Gulf of Mexico to further develop marine electromagnetic techniques in order to aid the detection and mapping of gas hydrate deposits. Marine CSEM methods are used to obtain an electrical resistivity structure of the subsurface which can indicate the type of substance filling the pore space, such as gas hydrates which are more resistive. Results from the Walker Ridge 313 study (WR 313) are presented in this paper and compared with the Gulf of Mexico Gas Hydrate Joint Industry Project II (JIP2) logging while drilling (LWD) results and available seismic data. The hydrate, known to exist within sheeted sand deposits, is mapped as a resistive region in the two dimensional (2D) CSEM inversion models. This is consistent with the JIP2 LWD resistivity results. CSEM inversions that use seismic horizons provide more realistic results compared to the unconstrained inversions by providing sharp boundaries and architectural control on the location of the resistive and conductive regions in the CSEM model. The seismic horizons include: 1) the base of the gas hydrate stability zone (BGHSZ), 2) the top of salt, and 3) the top and bottom of a fine grained marine mud interval with near vertical hydrate filled fractures, to constrain the CSEM inversion model. The top of salt provides improved location for brines, water saturated salt, and resistive salt. Inversions of the CSEM data map the occurrence of a 'halo' of conductive brines above salt. The use of the BGHSZ as a constraint on the inversion helps distinguish between free gas and gas hydrate as well as gas hydrate and water saturated sediments. (C) 2017 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Naif, S, Key K, Constable S, Evans RL.  2016.  Porosity and fluid budget of a water-rich megathrust revealed with electromagnetic data at the Middle America Trench. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems. 17:4495-4516.   10.1002/2016gc006556   AbstractWebsite

At convergent margins, the distribution of fluids released from the downgoing slab modulates the state of stress and seismic coupling at the megathrust plate interface. However, existing geophysical data are unable to quantify the porosity along this interface. Here we use controlled-source electromagnetic data collected across the Middle America Trench offshore Nicaragua to image the electrical conductivity structure of the outer fore arc. Our results detect a highly conductive channel, inferred to be the region around the decollement, showing the entire section of water-rich seafloor sediments underthrust with the subducting lithosphere. We use an empirical model of the electrical conductivity of porous media to quantify the channel porosity. Our estimates are consistent with sediment compaction studies, showing a rapid decay of 65%-10% porosity from the trench to 25 km landward. We constrain the channel thickness and use the porosity estimates to determine the water budget, which represents the fraction taken up by fluid. The porosity and water budget estimates show significant lateral variations that we attribute to changes in subducted sediment thickness caused by outer rise bending faults. Between 18 and 23 km from the trench, the conductive channel broadens greatly to 1.5-2 km thick, possibly due to concentrated blind faults or sediment underplating, which suggests a sudden change in hydrogeologic structure at the plate interface. The impact of the anomalous conductor on the seismic coupling and mechanical properties of the megathrust is potentially related to the discrepancy in estimated fault slip between seismic and tsunami source inversions for the 1992 Nicaragua tsunami earthquake.

Constable, S, Kannberg PK, Weitemeyer K.  2016.  Vulcan: A deep-towed CSEM receiver. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems. 17:1042-1064.   10.1002/2015gc006174   AbstractWebsite

We have developed a three-axis electric field receiver designed to be towed behind a marine electromagnetic transmitter for the purpose of mapping the electrical resistivity in the upper 1000 m of seafloor geology. By careful adjustment of buoyancy and the use of real-time monitoring of depth and altitude, we are able to deep-tow multiple receivers on arrays up to 1200 m long within 50 m of the seafloor, thereby obtaining good coupling to geology. The rigid body of the receiver is designed to reduce noise associated with lateral motion of flexible antennas during towing, and allows the measurement of the vertical electric field component, which modeling shows to be particularly sensitive to near-seafloor resistivity variations. The positions and orientations of the receivers are continuously measured, and realistic estimates of positioning errors can be used to build an error model for the data. During a test in the San Diego Trough, offshore California, inversions of the data were able to fit amplitude and phase of horizontal electric fields at three frequencies on three receivers to about 1% in amplitude and 1 degrees in phase and vertical fields to about 5% in amplitude and 5 degrees in phase. The geological target of the tests was a known cold seep and methane vent in 1000 m water depth, which inversions show to be associated with a 1 km wide resistor at a depth between 50 and 150 m below seafloor. Given the high resistivity (30 m) and position within the gas hydrate stability field, we interpret this to be massive methane hydrate.

Naif, S, Key K, Constable S, Evans RL.  2015.  Water-rich bending faults at the Middle America Trench. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems. 16:2582-2597.   10.1002/2015gc005927   AbstractWebsite

The portion of the Central American margin that encompasses Nicaragua is considered to represent an end-member system where multiple lines of evidence point to a substantial flux of subducted fluids. The seafloor spreading fabric of the incoming Cocos plate is oriented parallel to the trench such that flexural bending at the outer rise optimally reactivates a dense network of normal faults that extend several kilometers into the upper mantle. Bending faults are thought to provide fluid pathways that lead to serpentinization of the upper mantle. While geophysical anomalies detected beneath the outer rise have been interpreted as broad crustal and upper mantle hydration, no observational evidence exists to confirm that bending faults behave as fluid pathways. Here we use seafloor electromagnetic data collected across the Middle America Trench (MAT) offshore of Nicaragua to create a comprehensive electrical resistivity image that illuminates the infiltration of seawater along bending faults. We quantify porosity from the resistivity with Archie's law and find that our estimates for the abyssal plain oceanic crust are in good agreement with independent observations. As the Cocos crust traverses the outer rise, the porosity of the dikes and gabbros progressively increase from 2.7% and 0.7% to 4.8% and 1.7%, peaking within 20 km of the trench axis. We conclude that the intrusive crust subducts twice as much pore water as previously thought, significantly raising the flux of fluid to the seismogenic zone and the mantle wedge.

Du Frane, WL, Stern LA, Constable S, Weitemeyer KA, Smith MM, Roberts JJ.  2015.  Electrical properties of methane hydrate plus sediment mixtures. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth. 120:4773-4783.   10.1002/2015jb011940   AbstractWebsite

Knowledge of the electrical properties of multicomponent systems with gas hydrate, sediments, and pore water is needed to help relate electromagnetic (EM) measurements to specific gas hydrate concentration and distribution patterns in nature. Toward this goal, we built a pressure cell capable of measuring in situ electrical properties of multicomponent systems such that the effects of individual components and mixing relations can be assessed. We first established the temperature-dependent electrical conductivity (sigma) of pure, single-phase methane hydrate to be similar to 5 orders of magnitude lower than seawater, a substantial contrast that can help differentiate hydrate deposits from significantly more conductive water-saturated sediments in EM field surveys. Here we report sigma measurements of two-component systems in which methane hydrate is mixed with variable amounts of quartz sand or glass beads. Sand by itself has low sigma but is found to increase the overall sigma of mixtures with well-connected methane hydrate. Alternatively, the overall sigma decreases when sand concentrations are high enough to cause gas hydrate to be poorly connected, indicating that hydrate grains provide the primary conduction path. Our measurements suggest that impurities from sand induce chemical interactions and/or doping effects that result in higher electrical conductivity with lower temperature dependence. These results can be used in the modeling of massive or two-phase gas-hydrate-bearing systems devoid of conductive pore water. Further experiments that include a free water phase are the necessary next steps toward developing complex models relevant to most natural systems.

Wheelock, B, Constable S, Key K.  2015.  The advantages of logarithmically scaled data for electromagnetic inversion. Geophysical Journal International. 201:1765-1780.   10.1093/gji/ggv107   AbstractWebsite

Non-linear inversion algorithms traverse a data misfit space over multiple iterations of trial models in search of either a global minimum or some target misfit contour. The success of the algorithm in reaching that objective depends upon the smoothness and predictability of the misfit space. For any given observation, there is no absolute form a datum must take, and therefore no absolute definition for the misfit space; in fact, there are many alternatives. However, not all misfit spaces are equal in terms of promoting the success of inversion. In this work, we appraise three common forms that complex data take in electromagnetic geophysical methods: real and imaginary components, a power of amplitude and phase, and logarithmic amplitude and phase. We find that the optimal form is logarithmic amplitude and phase. Single-parameter misfit curves of log-amplitude and phase data for both magnetotelluric and controlled-source electromagnetic methods are the smoothest of the three data forms and do not exhibit flattening at low model resistivities. Synthetic, multiparameter, 2-D inversions illustrate that log-amplitude and phase is the most robust data form, converging to the target misfit contour in the fewest steps regardless of starting model and the amount of noise added to the data; inversions using the other two data forms run slower or fail under various starting models and proportions of noise. It is observed that inversion with log-amplitude and phase data is nearly two times faster in converging to a solution than with other data types. We also assess the statistical consequences of transforming data in the ways discussed in this paper. With the exception of real and imaginary components, which are assumed to be Gaussian, all other data types do not produce an expected mean-squared misfit value of 1.00 at the true model (a common assumption) as the errors in the complex data become large. We recommend that real and imaginary data with errors larger than 10 per cent of the complex amplitude be withheld from a log-amplitude and phase inversion rather than retaining them with large error-bars.

Constable, S, Orange A, Key K.  2015.  And the geophysicist replied: "Which model do you want?" Geophysics. 80:E197-E212.   10.1190/geo2014-0381.1   AbstractWebsite

Marine controlled-source electromagnetic (CSEM) and magnetotelluric (MT) soundings were carried out between 1997 and 2003 over the Gemini prospect in the Gulf of Mexico during early development of marine instrumentation. The resulting data sets provide a good test bed for examining the effect of the data type and misfit choice on regularized inversion solutions. We inverted the data sets individually and jointly for isotropic and anisotropic resistivity at a variety of data misfits. We found that multifrequency CSEM inversions vastly improved structural resolution over single-frequency inversions, suggesting that variation in skin depth added significant information. Joint MT and CSEM inversion appeared to improve resolution over MT-only inversions at depths considerably deeper than the CSEM data can resolve, probably by constraining shallow structure in the parts of the model to which the MT data were sensitive. The addition of model anisotropy improved data fit, but introduced an arbitrary scaling between the regularization penalty on model roughness and the penalty on anisotropy. A small relative penalty on anisotropy produced two independent models for horizontal and vertical resistivity, whereas a large penalty reproduced the isotropic models. Intermediate penalties produced pleasing models, but there was no objective criterion to choose one particular model. Inverted models also depend significantly on the choice of target data misfit, but the optimum misfit is difficult to determine even with well-estimated errors. So-called L-curves do not provide an objective choice of misfit because they are both heuristic and depend on the choice of data that is plotted. Various measures of structure in data residuals were tested in an attempt to guide the misfit choice, with some success, but this too was somewhat heuristic. Ultimately, of the 100 or so inversions that were run, no single model could be considered "preferred," but together they provided a good understanding of the information contained in the data.

Myer, D, Key K, Constable S.  2015.  Marine CSEM of the Scarborough gas field, Part 2: 2D inversion. Geophysics. 80:E187-E196.   10.1190/geo2014-0438.1   AbstractWebsite

We explored the application of 2D inversion of marine controlled-source electromagnetic and marine magnetotelluric data to image an ambiguous target. The Scarborough gas reservoir off the west coast of Australia lies in close repose to a layer in the overburden of similar resistivity-thickness product and also is not far above the resistive basement, making it a difficult electric target. We found that the standard 2D smooth-inversion method yielded models that were unable to resolve this ambiguous structural configuration. We solved this problem by developing a two-step workflow, in which we first invert for a coarse background resistivity model (e.g., anisotropic layers), then invert for the minimum deviation from this background using a much finer model discretization. The main purpose of our two-stage workflow is to inject the knowledge into the inversion that the subsurface is composed of self-similar geologic domains. Though the resulting models did not resolve fine-scale structural details, they might still be used to map the overall extent and bulk qualities of a target in an otherwise confounding setting.

Ray, A, Key K, Bodin T, Myer D, Constable S.  2014.  Bayesian inversion of marine CSEM data from the Scarborough gas field using a transdimensional 2-D parametrization. Geophysical Journal International. 199:1847-1860.   10.1093/gji/ggu370   AbstractWebsite

We apply a reversible-jump Markov chain Monte Carlo method to sample the Bayesian posterior model probability density function of 2-D seafloor resistivity as constrained by marine controlled source electromagnetic data. This density function of earth models conveys information on which parts of the model space are illuminated by the data. Whereas conventional gradient-based inversion approaches require subjective regularization choices to stabilize this highly non-linear and non-unique inverse problem and provide only a single solution with no model uncertainty information, the method we use entirely avoids model regularization. The result of our approach is an ensemble of models that can be visualized and queried to provide meaningful information about the sensitivity of the data to the subsurface, and the level of resolution of model parameters. We represent models in 2-D using a Voronoi cell parametrization. To make the 2-D problem practical, we use a source-receiver common midpoint approximation with 1-D forward modelling. Our algorithm is transdimensional and self-parametrizing where the number of resistivity cells within a 2-D depth section is variable, as are their positions and geometries. Two synthetic studies demonstrate the algorithm's use in the appraisal of a thin, segmented, resistive reservoir which makes for a challenging exploration target. As a demonstration example, we apply our method to survey data collected over the Scarborough gas field on the Northwest Australian shelf.

Weitemeyer, K, Constable S.  2014.  Navigating marine electromagnetic transmitters using dipole field geometry. Geophysical Prospecting. 62:573-596.   10.1111/1365-2478.12092   AbstractWebsite

The marine controlled source electromagnetic (CSEM) technique has been adopted by the hydrocarbon industry to characterize the resistivity of targets identified from seismic data prior to drilling. Over the years, marine controlled source electromagnetic has matured to the point that four-dimensional or time lapse surveys and monitoring could be applied to hydrocarbon reservoirs in production, or to monitor the sequestration of carbon dioxide. Marine controlled source electromagnetic surveys have also been used to target shallow resistors such as gas hydrates. These novel uses of the technique require very well constrained transmitter and receiver geometry in order to make meaningful and accurate geologic interpretations of the data. Current navigation in marine controlled source electromagnetic surveys utilize a long base line, or a short base line, acoustic navigation system to locate the transmitter and seafloor receivers. If these systems fail, then rudimentary navigation is possible by assuming the transmitter follows in the ship's track. However, these navigational assumptions are insufficient to capture the detailed orientation and position of the transmitter required for both shallow targets and repeat surveys. In circumstances when acoustic navigation systems fail we propose the use of an inversion algorithm that solves for transmitter geometry. This algorithm utilizes the transmitter's electromagnetic dipole radiation pattern as recorded by stationary, close range (<1000m), receivers in order to model the geometry of the transmitter. We test the code with a synthetic model and validate it with data from a well navigated controlled source electromagnetic survey over the Scarborough gas field in Australia.

Myer, D, Constable S, Key K.  2013.  Magnetotelluric evidence for layered mafic intrusions beneath the Voring and Exmouth rifted margins. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors. 220:1-10.   10.1016/j.pepi.2013.04.007   AbstractWebsite

Marine magnetotelluric (MT) surveys at two volcanic passive margins have revealed an enigmatic layer of extremely high conductivity (<= 0.1 Omega m) at similar to 10 km depth. At the Voring Plateau off the northwest shelf of Norway, 2D inversion of data from nine sites along a 54 km line resolves a layer with a conductance of similar to 10(4) S. At the Exmouth Plateau off the northwest shelf of Australia, 2D inversion of 122 sites in 17 lines finds a similar layer at similar depth but an order of magnitude higher conductance. At both plateaus, the depth of the high conductivity layer coincides roughly with what seismic studies have identified as an assemblage of sills. We propose that the extremely high conductance is due to well-connected conductive cumulates (e.g. magnetite) precipitated in layered mafic intrusions. In contrast to sill emplacement, the nature of layered intrusion formation requires connection to a magma source over time. Such a connection would not be likely during rifting when the rift provides a preferential pathway for pressure release. This implies emplacement prior to or during a pause in the early stage of continental breakup. (c) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Constable, S.  2013.  Review paper: Instrumentation for marine magnetotelluric and controlled source electromagnetic sounding. Geophysical Prospecting. 61:505-532.   10.1111/j.1365-2478.2012.01117.x   AbstractWebsite

We review and describe the electromagnetic transmitters and receivers used to carry out magnetotelluric and controlled source soundings in the marine environment. Academic studies using marine electromagnetic methods started in the 1970s but during the last decade these methods have been used extensively by the offshore hydrocarbon exploration industry. The principal sensors (magnetometers and non-polarizing electrodes) are similar to those used on land but magnetotelluric field strengths are not only much smaller on the deep sea-floor but also fall off more rapidly with increasing frequency. As a result, magnetotelluric signals approach the noise floor of electric field and induction coil sensors (0.1 nV/m and 0.1 pT) at around 1 Hz in typical continental shelf environments. Fluxgate magnetometers have higher noise than induction coils at periods shorter than 500 s but can still be used to collect sea-floor magnetotelluric data down to 40-100 s. Controlled source transmitters using electric dipoles can be towed continuously through the seawater or on the sea-bed, achieving output currents of 1000 A or more, limited by the conductivity of seawater and the power that can be transmitted down the cables used to tow the devices behind a ship. The maximum source-receiver separation achieved in controlled source soundings depends on both the transmitter dipole moment and on the receiver noise floor and is typically around 10 km in continental shelf exploration environments. The position of both receivers and transmitters needs to be navigated using either long baseline or short baseline acoustic ranging, while sea-floor receivers need additional measurements of orientations from compasses and tiltmeters. All equipment has to be packaged to accommodate the high pressure (up to 40 MPa) and corrosive properties of seawater. Usually receiver instruments are self-contained, battery powered and have highly accurate clocks for timekeeping, even when towed on the sea-floor or in the water column behind a transmitter.

Key, K, Constable S, Liu L, Pommier A.  2013.  Electrical image of passive mantle upwelling beneath the northern East Pacific Rise. Nature. 495:499-502.: Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.   10.1038/nature11932   AbstractWebsite

Melt generated by mantle upwelling is fundamental to the production of new oceanic crust at mid-ocean ridges, yet the forces controlling this process are debated1, 2. Passive-flow models predict symmetric upwelling due to viscous drag from the diverging tectonic plates, but have been challenged by geophysical observations of asymmetric upwelling3, 4, 5 that suggest anomalous mantle pressure and temperature gradients2, 6, 7, and by observations of concentrated upwelling centres8 consistent with active models where buoyancy forces give rise to focused convective flow2. Here we use sea-floor magnetotelluric soundings at the fast-spreading northern East Pacific Rise to image mantle electrical structure to a depth of about 160 kilometres. Our data reveal a symmetric, high-conductivity region at depths of 20–90 kilometres that is consistent with partial melting of passively upwelling mantle9, 10, 11. The triangular region of conductive partial melt matches passive-flow predictions, suggesting that melt focusing to the ridge occurs in the porous melting region rather than along the shallower base of the thermal lithosphere. A deeper conductor observed east of the ridge at a depth of more than 100 kilometres is explained by asymmetric upwelling due to viscous coupling across two nearby transform faults. Significant electrical anisotropy occurs only in the shallowest mantle east of the ridge axis, where high vertical conductivity at depths of 10–20 kilometres indicates localized porous conduits. This suggests that a coincident seismic-velocity anomaly12 is evidence of shallow magma transport channels13, 14 rather than deeper off-axis upwelling. We interpret the mantle electrical structure as evidence that plate-driven passive upwelling dominates this ridge segment, with dynamic forces being negligible.

Naif, S, Key K, Constable S, Evans RL.  2013.  Melt-rich channel observed at the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary. Nature. 495:356-359.: Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.   10.1038/nature11939   AbstractWebsite

The lithosphere–asthenosphere boundary (LAB) separates rigid oceanic plates from the underlying warm ductile asthenosphere. Although a viscosity decrease beneath this boundary is essential for plate tectonics, a consensus on its origin remains elusive. Seismic studies identify a prominent velocity discontinuity at depths thought to coincide with the LAB but disagree on its cause1, 2, 3, 4, 5, generally invoking either partial melting6 or a mantle dehydration boundary7 as explanations. Here we use sea-floor magnetotelluric data to image the electrical conductivity of the LAB beneath the edge of the Cocos plate at the Middle America trench offshore of Nicaragua. Underneath the resistive oceanic lithosphere, the magnetotelluric data reveal a high-conductivity layer confined to depths of 45 to 70 kilometres. Because partial melts are stable at these depths in a warm damp mantle8, we interpret the conductor to be a partially molten layer capped by an impermeable frozen lid that is the base of the lithosphere. A conductivity anisotropy parallel to plate motion indicates that this melt has been sheared into flow-aligned tube-like structures9. We infer that the LAB beneath young plates consists of a thin, partially molten, channel of low viscosity that acts to decouple the overlying brittle lithosphere from the deeper convecting mantle. Because this boundary layer has the potential to behave as a lubricant to plate motion, its proximity to the trench may have implications for subduction dynamics.

Key, K, Constable S, Matsuno T, Evans RL, Myer D.  2012.  Electromagnetic detection of plate hydration due to bending faults at the Middle America Trench. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 351:45-53. AbstractWebsite

Water plays an important role in the processes occurring at subduction zones since the release of water from the downgoing slab impacts seismicity and enhances arc volcanism. Geochemical indicators suggest that the Nicaraguan slab is anomalously wet, yet the mechanism of slab hydration remains poorly constrained. Extensional bending faults on the incoming oceanic plate of the Middle America Trench offshore Nicaragua have been observed to penetrate to mantle depths, suggesting a permeable pathway for hydration of the crust and serpentinization of the upper mantle. Low seismic velocities observed in the uppermost mantle of the incoming plate have been explained as serpentinization due to deep fluid penetration but could also be explained by intrinsic anisotropy and fractures in the absence of fluid circulation. Here we use controlled-source electromagnetic imaging to map the electrical resistivity of the crust and uppermost mantle along a 220 km profile crossing the trench offshore Nicaragua. Along the incoming plate our data reveal that crustal resistivity decreases by up to a factor of five directly with the onset of the bending faults. Furthermore, a strong azimuthal anisotropy compatible with conductive vertical fault planes is observed only on the faulted trench seafloor. The observed resistivity decrease and anisotropy can be explained by a porosity increase along vertical fault planes, which we interpret as evidence that the lithospheric bending faults provide the necessary permeable fluid pathways required for serpentinization of the uppermost mantle. This implies that most serpentinisation happens at the trench, with the width of the faulting region and the density of fractures controlling the extent of upper mantle alteration. This observation explains why the heavily faulted trench offshore Nicaragua is associated with an anomalously wet slab, whereas other sections of the Middle America Trench containing fewer bending faults have less fluid flux from the subducting slab. (c) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Myer, D, Constable S, Key K, Glinsky ME, Liu GM.  2012.  Marine CSEM of the Scarborough gas field, Part 1: Experimental design and data uncertainty. Geophysics. 77:E281-E299.   10.1190/geo2011-0380.1   AbstractWebsite

We describe the planning, processing, and uncertainty analysis for a marine CSEM survey of the Scarborough gas field off the northwest coast of Australia, consisting of 20 transmitter tow lines and 144 deployments positioned along a dense 2D profile and a complex 3D grid. The purpose of this survey was to collect a high-quality data set over a known hydrocarbon prospect and use it to further the development of CSEM as a hydrocarbon mapping tool. Recent improvements in navigation and processing techniques yielded high-quality frequency domain data. Data pseudosections exhibit a significant anomaly that is laterally confined within the known reservoir location. Perturbation analysis of the uncertainties in the transmitter parameters yielded predicted uncertainties in amplitude and phase of just a few percent at close ranges. These uncertainties may, however, be underestimated. We introduce a method for more accurately deriving uncertainties using a line of receivers towed twice in opposite directions. Comparing the residuals for each line yields a Gaussian distribution directly related to the aggregate uncertainty of the transmitter parameters. Constraints on systematic error in the transmitter antenna dip and inline range can be calculated by perturbation analysis. Uncertainties are not equal in amplitude and phase, suggesting that inversion of these data would be better suited in these components rather than in real and imaginary components. One-dimensional inversion showed that the reservoir and a confounding resistive layer above it cannot be separately resolved even when the roughness constraint is modified to allow for jumps in resistivity and prejudices are provided, indicating that this level of detail is beyond the single-site CSEM data. Further, when range-dependent error bars are used, the resolution decreases at a shallower depth than when a fixed-error level is used.

Weitemeyer, KA, Constable S, Trehu AM.  2011.  A marine electromagnetic survey to detect gas hydrate at Hydrate Ridge, Oregon. Geophysical Journal International. 187:45-62.   10.1111/j.1365-246X.2011.05105.x   AbstractWebsite

Gas hydrates are a potential energy resource and hazard for drilling and infrastructure, yet estimates of global volume vary by over three orders of magnitude. Hydrates are electrically resistive compared to water saturated sediment and so electromagnetic methods provide an additional tool to seismic surveys and drilling for determining hydrate saturations. A marine electromagnetic survey was carried out at Hydrate Ridge, Oregon, USA, with the aim of testing the use of controlled source electromagnetic (CSEM) and magnetotelluric (MT) methods to map gas hydrate and free gas below the gas hydrate stability zone. A 2-D CSEM inversion supports the scenario deduced from previous seismic and drilling results, which indicate two mechanisms of hydrate emplacement: a transport-dominated and reaction-dominated regime. A prominent resistive region of 2.5-4 Omega m at a depth of about 130 mbsf, near the seismic bottom simulating reflector (BSR), suggests that 27 to 46 per cent of the bulk volume is filled with hydrate, depending on whether Archie's Law or the Hashin-Strikman bounds are used. This is representative of a reaction-dominated regime for hydrate emplacement, and where a significant low velocity zone exists based on a seismic tomography inversion, suggests large quantities of free gas below the BSR. Electrical resistivity logging while drilling (LWD) data show general agreement with the CSEM inversion model except for a CSEM-derived resistive region at seismic horizon A, known to transport free gas into the gas hydrate stability zone. Inversion of MT data collected simultaneously during the CSEM survey provides a complimentary low-resolution image of the shallow sediments and shows folding in the accretionary complex sediments similar to that imaged by a tomographic seismic velocity model.

Du Frane, WL, Stern LA, Weitemeyer KA, Constable S, Pinkston JC, Roberts JJ.  2011.  Electrical properties of polycrystalline methane hydrate. Geophysical Research Letters. 38   10.1029/2011gl047243   AbstractWebsite

Electromagnetic (EM) remote-sensing techniques are demonstrated to be sensitive to gas hydrate concentration and distribution and complement other resource assessment techniques, particularly seismic methods. To fully utilize EM results requires knowledge of the electrical properties of individual phases and mixing relations, yet little is known about the electrical properties of gas hydrates. We developed a pressure cell to synthesize gas hydrate while simultaneously measuring in situ frequency-dependent electrical conductivity (sigma). Synthesis of methane (CH(4)) hydrate was verified by thermal monitoring and by post run cryogenic scanning electron microscope imaging. Impedance spectra (20 Hz to 2 MHz) were collected before and after synthesis of polycrystalline CH(4) hydrate from polycrystalline ice and used to calculate s. We determined the sigma of CH(4) hydrate to be 5 x 10(-5) S/m at 0 degrees C with activation energy (E(a)) of 30.6 kJ/mol (-15 to 15 degrees C). After dissociation back into ice, sigma measurements of samples increased by a factor of similar to 4 and E(a) increased by similar to 50%, similar to the starting ice samples. Citation: Du Frane, W. L., L. A. Stern, K. A. Weitemeyer, S. Constable, J. C. Pinkston, and J. J. Roberts (2011), Electrical properties of polycrystalline methane hydrate, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L09313, doi:10.1029/2011GL047243.

Zhdanov, MS, Wan L, Gribenko A, Cuma M, Key K, Constable S.  2011.  Large-scale 3D inversion of marine magnetotelluric data: Case study from the Gemini prospect, Gulf of Mexico. Geophysics. 76:F77-F87.   10.1190/1.3526299   AbstractWebsite

Three-dimensional magnetotelluric (MT) inversion is an emerging technique for offshore hydrocarbon exploration. We have developed a new approach to the 3D inversion of MT data, based on the integral equation method. The Tikhonov regularization and physical constraint have been used to obtain a stable and reasonable solution of the inverse problem. The method is implemented in a fully parallel computer code. We have applied the developed method and software for the inversion of marine MT data collected by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) in the Gemini prospect, Gulf of Mexico. The inversion domain was discretized into 1.6 million cells. It took nine hours to complete 51 iterations on the 832-processor cluster with a final misfit between the observed and predicted data of 6.2%. The inversion results reveal a resistive salt structure, which is confirmed by a comparison with the seismic data. These inversion results demonstrate that resistive geoelectrical structures like salt domes can be mapped with reasonable accuracy using the 3D inversion of marine MT data.

Van Beusekom, AE, Parker RL, Bank RE, Gill PE, Constable S.  2011.  The 2-D magnetotelluric inverse problem solved with optimization. Geophysical Journal International. 184:639-650.   10.1111/j.1365-246X.2010.04895.x   AbstractWebsite

P>The practical 2-D magnetotelluric inverse problem seeks to determine the shallow-Earth conductivity structure using finite and uncertain data collected on the ground surface. We present an approach based on using PLTMG (Piecewise Linear Triangular MultiGrid), a special-purpose code for optimization with second-order partial differential equation (PDE) constraints. At each frequency, the electromagnetic field and conductivity are treated as unknowns in an optimization problem in which the data misfit is minimized subject to constraints that include Maxwell's equations and the boundary conditions. Within this framework it is straightforward to accommodate upper and lower bounds or other conditions on the conductivity. In addition, as the underlying inverse problem is ill-posed, constraints may be used to apply various kinds of regularization. We discuss some of the advantages and difficulties associated with using PDE-constrained optimization as the basis for solving large-scale nonlinear geophysical inverse problems. Combined transverse electric and transverse magnetic complex admittances from the COPROD2 data are inverted. First, we invert penalizing size and roughness giving solutions that are similar to those found previously. In a second example, conventional regularization is replaced by a technique that imposes upper and lower bounds on the model. In both examples the data misfit is better than that obtained previously, without any increase in model complexity.

Myer, D, Constable S, Key K.  2011.  Broad-band waveforms and robust processing for marine CSEM surveys. Geophysical Journal International. 184:689-698.   10.1111/j.1365-246X.2010.04887.x   AbstractWebsite

P>In the marine controlled-source electromagnetic method, the Earth response varies in frequency; therefore, using a wide range of frequencies may better constrain geological structure than using a single frequency or only a few closely spaced frequencies. Binary waveforms, such as the square wave, provide a number of frequencies, though many are limited in usefulness because of the rapid decline of amplitude with frequency. Binary waveform design can be improved by recognizing that the class of doubly symmetric waveforms has special properties: they are compact, have controlled phase, are never polarizing and can be described by a simple closed-form mathematical solution. Using this solution, we discovered a compact waveform in which the amplitudes of the third and seventh harmonics are maximized and which has a signal-to-noise advantage at higher frequencies over several other common waveforms. Compact waveforms make possible improved methods for time-series processing. Using short time windows and a first-difference pre-whitener lessens spectral contamination from magnetotelluric signal and oceanographic noise; robust stacking reduces bias from time-series noise transients; and accurate variance estimates may be derived from averages of waveform-length Fourier transform windows of the time-series.