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Ancient geologic escape hatches mistaken for tube worms
Date:2/4/2009

Tubeworms have been around for millions of years and the fossil record is rich with their distinctive imprints. But a discovery made by U of C scientists found that what previous researchers had labeled as tubeworms in a formation near Denver, Colorado, are actually 70 million-year-old escape hatches for methane.

Tubeworms, or siboglinids, look like long lipstick tubes and have been observed in warm and cold environments on the ocean floor, as well as in whale carcasses and decomposing organic-rich cargoes in sunken ships. Ecosystems teeming with tubeworm colonies were discovered at hydrothermal vents in the Galapagos Ridge in 1977 and at cold seeps at the base of the Florida Escarpment in 1984. As a result of these modern sightings, a number of fossil examples of tubeworms were subsequently identified in the rock record. One of these localities, found south of Denver, Colorado, was recently re-examined by U of C scientists.

In an area approximately one and a half times the size of the City of Calgary, scientists discovered that what was previously identified as fossilized tubeworms were actually fossilized tubular escape hatches for methane, a major constituent of natural gas.

"It is the first time that evidence of a natural ancient geologic conduit system has been discovered where gas, water and solids were all being vented at once," says Federico Krause, the lead author of the paper which is co-authored by Selim Sayegh, an adjunct professor in geoscience, Jesse Clark, a former undergraduate student, and Renee Perez, research associate in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The paper is published in this month's edition of Palaios.

The discovery was made possible thanks to the Stable Isotope Laboratory of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the electronic microprobe housed in the Department of Geoscience. Stable isotopes and chemical elements maps demonstrated that not only methane gas bubbles wer
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Contact: Leanne Yohemas
leanne.yohemas@ucalgary.ca
403-220-5144
University of Calgary
Source:Eurekalert

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