Short- and long-term movement of mudflows of the mississippi river delta front and their known and potential impacts on oil and gas infrastructure

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© 2020 The Author(s). Mudflows on the Mississippi River Delta Front (MRDF) are recognized hazards to oil and gas infrastructure in the shallow (20–300 m water depth) Gulf of Mexico. Preconditioning of the seafloor for failure results from high sedimentation rates coupled with slope over-steepening, under-consolidation and abundant biogenic gas production. Catastrophic failure of production platforms and pipelines due to seafloor displacement during infrequent large hurricanes such as Camille in 1969 and Ivan in 2004, point to cyclical loading of the seafloor by waves as a primary movement trigger. Due to data limitations, the role of smaller storms and background oceanographic processes in driving seafloor movement has remained largely unconstrained but these are thought to contribute to significant seafloor change. With the aid of new high-resolution multibeam mapping and seismic reflection profiling across sections of the MRDF, several moving features within the deforming delta-front environment are investigated and potential hazards to infrastructure installed and adjacent to the region are discussed. Via repeat mapping surveys of selected areas and records of changing shipwreck locations, we highlight significant seafloor displacement across annual to decadal timescales. For example, individual blocks mapped within mudflow gullies adjacent to Southwest Pass show downslope transport of more than 80 m in a single year, while the SS Virginia, a 153 m-long oil tanker sunk in 1942, has been relocated and found to have moved downslope more than 400 m in 14 years, without a major hurricane (.Category 2) passing through the region.

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Geological Society Special Publication

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