More than a century of bathymetric observations and present-day shallow sediment characterization in Belfast Bay, Maine, USA: implications for pockmark field longevity Academic Article uri icon


  • Mechanisms and timescales responsible for pockmark formation and maintenance remain uncertain, especially in areas lacking extensive thermogenic fluid deposits (e.g., previously glaciated estuaries). This study characterizes seafloor activity in the Belfast Bay, Maine nearshore pockmark field using (1) three swath bathymetry datasets collected between 1999 and 2008, complemented by analyses of shallow box-core samples for radionuclide activity and undrained shear strength, and (2) historical bathymetric data (report and smooth sheets from 1872, 1947, 1948). In addition, because repeat swath bathymetry surveys are an emerging data source, we present a selected literature review of recent studies using such datasets for seafloor change analysis. This study is the first to apply the method to a pockmark field, and characterizes macro-scale (>5 m) evolution of tens of square kilometers of highly irregular seafloor. Presence/absence analysis yielded no change in pockmark frequency or distribution over a 9-year period (1999–2008). In that time pockmarks did not detectably enlarge, truncate, elongate, or combine. Historical data indicate that pockmark chains already existed in the 19th century. Despite the lack of macroscopic changes in the field, near-bed undrained shear-strength values of less than 7 kPa and scattered downcore 137Cs signatures indicate a highly disturbed setting. Integrating these findings with independent geophysical and geochemical observations made in the pockmark field, it can be concluded that (1) large-scale sediment resuspension and dispersion related to pockmark formation and failure do not occur frequently within this field, and (2) pockmarks can persevere in a dynamic estuarine setting that exhibits minimal modern fluid venting. Although pockmarks are conventionally thought to be long-lived features maintained by a combination of fluid venting and minimal sediment accumulation, this suggests that other mechanisms may be equally active in maintaining such irregular seafloor morphology. One such mechanism could be upwelling within pockmarks induced by near-bed currents.

publication date

  • August 2011