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The surface expression of hydrocarbon seeps characterized by satellite image spectral analysis and rock magnetic data (Falcon basin, western Venezuela)

de La Rosa Ferna; Aldana, M.; Costanzo-Alvarez, V.; Yepez, S.; Amon, C.

Satellite images have been widely used to characterize mineral alteration zones in surface rocks affected by hydrocarbons’ upward seepage. Likewise, magnetic surveys over oil fields have been employed for similar purposes. This work integrates satellite image spectral analyses with rock magnetic and geochemical data (i.e., mass-specific magnetic susceptibility χ, saturation isothermal remanent magnetization SIRM, analysis of SIRM acquisition curves, absorption spectro-radiometry, and X-ray diffraction analyses). The target area was an oil- prospective region in northwestern Venezuela (Falcon Basin) swarmed by hydrocarbon seeps. The study’s main goal was to depict the spatial extension and vertical reach of the hydrocarbon-mediated alteration pro- duced by these seeps and gain some knowledge about the processes involved in the subsequent mineral changes. Multispectral and hyperspectral satellite images showed three hydrocarbon-induced diagenetic anomalies (HIDAs) associated with undifferentiated clays and kaolinite, and low dolomite content. A simple weathering model was suggested combining the likely effects of the ascending seepage of oil and gas with the seasonal alternation of leaching and evaporation of meteoric waters. This model explains the magnetic enhancement with depth due to Fe oxides and sulfides’ formation by reducing and oxidizing events. A non-supervised Two-Step Cluster Analysis (TSCA) was applied to integrate geochemical and rock magnetic properties with satellite images. The input variables were log SIRM and proxies of undifferentiated clays and dolomite concentrations obtained from the band-ratio ASTER images. The TSCA yields three clusters associated with different alteration levels in the top and low (0.3–1 m) soils and sediments. By mapping the class membership of each sampling site, for both depth levels, it was possible to obtain a broad view of the synergistic change of these combined properties, not only over the whole extent of the study area but also from top to bottom of the weathered sequence. This case study illustrates the potential of such an integrated method as an oil exploration tool, and a means to assess the level and scope of the environmental impact produced by hydrocarbon seepage on terrestrial ecosystems.

Keywords: Satellite remote sensing; Spectral images; Spectral signature; Hydrocarbon seeps; Hydrocarbon-induced diagenesis; Rock magnetism; Weathered sequence; Two-step cluster analysis

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