Field study and laboratory experiments of bubble plumes in shallow seas as analogues of sub-seabed CO2 leakages

To understand the effects of increased levels of CO2 on the marine realm, it is possible to study areas where, for natural reasons, there are emissions of CO2 from the seabed. One of these areas is located east of Panarea Island (Aeolian Islands – Southern Tyrrhenian Sea – Italy). Here, the volcanic activity that characterizes the Aeolian archipelago causes a continuous release of CO2 (up to 98% of the total gas) from several vents on the seafloor in shallow water. This area was studied by means of surface techniques and direct SCUBA diving surveys; the data presented refers to a field campaign performed in 2008. To collect the necessary data, some dedicated sampling and measuring techniques were developed for use in an underwater environment. The chemistry of the fluids and their influence on the water body was determined via logs and transects in the field and by gas-chromatographic and liquid-chromatographic laboratory analysis. The flux from some of the main gas vents was also measured directly underwater. Furthermore, some laboratory experiments in a two-layer stratified fluid were conducted to understand the main features of the physical interaction of a gas plume with the surrounding environment. Both field and laboratory experiments show that there is a development of a pseudo-convective cell around the rising plume with the formation of vortices that act as a physical barrier thus reducing the interaction between the plume and the surrounding water.