Pythias Oasis: The First-of-Its-Kind Seep in the Oceans

Adapted and condensed by OOI from Philip, et al., 2023, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.add6688.

 a) A multibeam sonar image of the methane bubble plumes at Pythias Oasis in 2015. b) Pythias orifice in 2015 showing the fluid-dominated, sediment-rich plume, as first visualized on the discovery dive by the ROV ROPOS. The main orifice has been continuously active since 2015. c) Pythias’ orifice in 2021 with increased biological communities and a small Fe-rich chimney. d) The edge of a large collapse-blowout zone – coring across this area in 2019 recovered substantial methane hydrate. e) A Neptunea snail nursery between the orifice site and the blowout zone.

Pythias Oasis is the first-of-its-kind seep in the oceans, providing a window into controls on megathrust events along the Cascadia Margin. Pythias Oasis, discovered during the 2015 Regional Cabled Array (RCA) Operations and Maintenance Cruise, utilizing the hull-mounted sonar on the R/V Thompson, is unlike any seep site yet described along active margins with unprecedented fluid chemistries (Figure above). It hosts an intense fluid-dominated venting system issuing low-salinity, hydrocarbon-bearing fluids carrying low concentrations of suspended particles from a discrete orifice that has been continuously active since 2015. Detailed sampling, as part of an NSF OCE-funded expedition in 2019 (OCE 16582901), and another dive in 2021 (added onto the RCA 2021 cruise) show that the fresh, warm fluids (four times background temperatures) are venting at the highest discharge rates yet measured within the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) and that the fluids are extremely enriched in boron lithium and iron.

Pythias Oasis provides a rare window into processes acting deep in the margin with fluid chemistries indicating that the fluids are sourced near the plate boundary in the Central CSZ at minimum temperatures of 150-250°C. The high discharge rates are thought to reflect draining of fluids along an over-pressurized reservoir associated with the subduction zone-perpendicular Alvin Canyon strike slip fault, suggesting that the faults regulate pore fluid pressure and megathrust slip behavior along the Central CSZ.

Results from this work are presented in Philip, B.T., E.A. Solomon, D.S. Kelley, A.M. Tréhu, T.L. Whorley, E. Roland, M. Tominaga, and R.W. Collier (2023) Fluid sources and overpressures within the central Cascadia Subduction Zone revealed by a warm, high-flux seafloor seep. Science Advances (9), doi: 10.1126/sciadv.add6688.