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Marine Georesources & Geotechnology


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Geotechnical Influence on the Acoustic Properties of Marine Sediments of the Santos Basin, Brazil
Arthur Ayres Neto , Joana de Noronha Teixeira Mendes , Juliana Maria Gonalves de Souza , Miguel Redusino Jr. & Rodrigo Leandro Bastos Pontes
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Geology Department, Fluminense Federal University, Brazil

To cite this article: Arthur Ayres Neto , Joana de Noronha Teixeira Mendes , Juliana Maria Gonalves de Souza , Miguel Redusino Jr. & Rodrigo Leandro Bastos Pontes (2013): Geotechnical Influence on the Acoustic Properties of Marine Sediments of the Santos Basin, Brazil, Marine Georesources & Geotechnology, 31:2, 125-136 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1064119X.2012.669815

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Marine Georesources & Geotechnology, 31:125136, 2013 Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 1064-119X print=1521-0618 online DOI: 10.1080/1064119X.2012.669815

Geotechnical Influence on the Acoustic Properties of Marine Sediments of the Santos Basin, Brazil
ARTHUR AYRES NETO, JOANA DE NORONHA TEIXEIRA MENDES, JULIANA MARIA GONC ALVES DE SOUZA, MIGUEL REDUSINO JR., AND RODRIGO LEANDRO BASTOS PONTES
Geology Department, Fluminense Federal University, Brazil

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There are several problems associated with core location and sediment deformation during the coring procedure. Geophysical investigation of the seafloor using acoustic systems, such as high-resolution seismic and single-beam sediment classification, provides a very cost-effective evaluation on the distribution of sedimentary environments. The present study investigates the relationship between acoustic impedance and geotechnical properties of shallow marine sediments from the Santos Basin, Brazil. A total of eight cores from different geological settings were collected and measurements of P-wave velocity (Vp), gamma density, mean grain size, void ratio, water content and shear strength were conducted. The results show that, despite different trends according to the sedimentary environment, the acoustic impedance correlates very well with all geotechnical parameters analyzed. Keywords geotechnics, marine geophysics, sediments

Introduction
The main challenge of the major deep water oil and gas projects is to transport the production to on-shore processing facilities. The option often lies on submarine pipelines connecting the production area to these facilities. However, the transportation of large quantities of sometimes very hazardous products over great distances through a pressurized pipeline system, often with zero-leak tolerance, is not a trivial thing. Submarine production facilities are very complex, carefully engineered structures placed into an enormously variable, ever-changing, and usually hostile environment, the seafloor. Variations in the structure-seafloor system may be enormous and material and environmental changes over time are of chief concern (Muhlbauer 2004). The selection of pipeline routes and the location of the associated tie-in structures require detailed knowledge of the seabed physical properties and shallow geology demanding that the areas along the routes, and regionally around the routes, be accurately surveyed.
Received 14 July 2011; accepted 15 February 2012. The authors want to thank REPSOL SINOPEC Brasil for the funding of the project. Address correspondence to Arthur Ayres Neto, Geology Department, Fluminense i, RJ, Federal University, Av. Gen Milton Tavares de Souza S=N, CEP: 24210-346, Nitero Brazil. E-mail: aayres@id.uff.br

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The use of acoustical geophysical tools is the most time- and cost-effective way to characterize the seafloor by allowing large areas to be surveyed in relatively short time. However, the geophysical information is indirect information. In order to precisely understand the geotechnical and geological characteristics of the seafloor it is necessary to sample the seafloor, both superficially and subsuperficially. The acquisition of geological and geotechnical samples has several constraints, especially in deep water. The first is to determine the exact location of the sample. Subsea acoustic positioning systems are used to determine the position of the sampler device at the moment it touches the seafloor. However, the precision of these systems depends on the frequency used, the horizontal distance of the equipment, and the level of environmental noise. Another critical issue is the deformation of the samples. Inevitably, every sampling technique affects the sediment column in a particular manner, potentially introducing dimensional and structural changes. Moreover, the representativeness of the geological and geotechnical information in terms of areal distribution is not yet well-established and is still a large disagreement among engineers. Since acoustic geophysical data is the basis for most of the information about the seafloor used in geohazards and pipeline route studies, it would be convenient if the geotechnical information could be extracted from the acoustic data. The advantages would be the continuous coverage of the geotechnical information, in comparison with discrete characteristics of the samples, with minimum sampling and laboratory testing. The objective of this paper is to investigate the correlation between acoustic properties, namely the acoustic impedance, and geological= geotechnical parameters from near surface sediments and its applicability to marine geotechnical investigation. Previous Studies Studies on the acoustic behavior of shallow marine sediments have been conducted since the 1980s (Hamilton 1980; Hamilton and Bachman 1982; Tatham 1982; Domenico 1984; Castagna et al. 1985; Han et al. 1986) demonstrating similar, but different, relationships between compressional (P-) and shear (S-) wave velocities and attenuation and porosity, water content, sand=silt=clay content, wet bulk density, shear strength, overburden pressure, and other petrophysical properties. Investigations focused on the correlation between geoacoustic parameters and geotechnical properties have shown that, despite low correlation coefficients, it is possible to note a tendency on correlations between P-wave velocity (Vp), acoustic impedance, attenuation coefficient and properties such as density, water content, porosity, shear strength and Atterberg limits (Liquid limit, plastic limit and plasticity index). Buchan et al. (1972) showed good correlations between the attenuation coefficient and several geotechnical properties while Vp showed, in general, relative weaker correlation with the same properties. In this study it was observed that acoustic impedance showed a wider range of correlation values, correlating very strongly (r > 0.9) with properties such as wet bulk density and porosity and weakly (r < 0.5) with mean grain size and clay content. The authors concluded that by far the most important factor in the variability of the acoustic data is that of particle size. Thus, for a deep-sea sediment, the greater the percentage of large size particles,

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or the larger the mean particle size, the greater the attenuation coefficient, sound velocity, and acoustic impedance. They also noted reasonable correlations between the Atterberg limits and some of the acoustic properties. Ayres and Theilen (1999) demonstrated that, despite the relatively low correlation coefficients between Vp and porosity, water content and wet bulk density, it was possible to determine regression equations. As expected, Vp increases with increasing wet bulk density and decreases with decreasing porosity and water content. Fener et al. (2005) showed that Vp correlated very well (correlations coefficients up to 0.89) with plastic and liquid limits of cohesive soils. Bartetzko and Kopf (2007) in a compilation of data from 46 Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) legs, demonstrated that shear strength and porosity show an increase down hole in about half of the drill sites. This increasing with depth trend was also noted by Ayres Neto (1998) and Hamilton and Bachman (1982) for the velocity of P-waves in shallow marine sediments. On the other hand, the main problem with geotechnical (and geological) analysis of the seafloor is the deformation of the sediments due to different factors. Skinner and McCave (2003) analyzed the effects of gravity- and pistoncoring techniques on soft sediment cores using principles of soil mechanics. They showed that the extent of piston over-sampling and the interval of sediment affected appear to be directly related to the weight of the coring apparatus and the length and elasticity of the coring cable, and that stratigraphic thinning increases with deeper penetration, with essentially intact sediments being recovered only down to 3 m penetration. Lo wemark et al. (2006) estimate differences in core shortening in three gravity cores taken using different coring devices. The comparison of X-ray radiographs and stratigraphic records of three cores showed that core shortening (sediment thinning) in gravity cores can be recognized in X-ray radiographs even if it is not visible in fresh sediment. Jackson and Richardson (2007) state that the determination of properties such as density, porosity, and water content is subjected to errors associated with sediment disturbance during collection, transport, and storage in different degrees depending on the nature of the sediment (muddy or sandy). Laboratory testing also does not yield appropriate properties of soil due to different loading and drainage conditions as compared to the actual in-situ soil condition. In order to minimize measurement errors due to sampling procedures some in-situ measurement techniques were developed. Arulrajah et al. (2006) used in-situ dissipation tests to provide a means of evaluating the in-situ coefficient of horizontal consolidation and horizontal hydraulic conductivity of soft clays from the Changi East Reclamation site in the Republic of Singapore. They noted that in-situ tests using the cone penetration test (CPT) are recommended as the most suitable method for the determination of the coefficient of horizontal consolidation in soil improvement schemes involving vertical drains. Seifert et al. (2008) presented in-situ strength and pore-pressure measurements from 57 dynamic CPTs in sediments of Mecklenburg, Eckernfo rde, and Gelting bays, western Baltic Sea. The authors concluded that dynamic CPT measurements showing higher penetration velocity than for the standard CPT may overestimate the soil stiffness. However, given the overall good agreement between the soil classification data and ground-truthing evidence gathered from the gravity cores, measurements using a dynamic CPT device represents a versatile approach in muddy sediments. This would be particularly true in gas-rich muds on which, for stability reasons, standard CPT rigs cannot be deployed.

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Correlation Between Acoustic and Geological Data The acoustic impedance is the main geoacoustic parameter which allows the correlation with geological and geotechnical properties through acoustic geophysical methods (Brand 2003). The reflection coefficient is the controlling property of acoustic energy transmission across a boundary. For a boundary separating two media of impedance Z1 and Z2 (such as seen on the water=seafloor boundary), the amount of energy reflected at the interface for a normally incident acoustic wave, which is the case of high-resolution seismic and sediment classification systems based on single-beam echo-sounders, travelling in Z1 is given by: R Z2 Z1 Z2 Z1 1

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As seen in Equation 1, the amount of energy reflected by the seafloor depends on the contrast of acoustic impedance between the two media. This energy is represented by the peak amplitude of the reflected signal. If the acoustic impedance contrast at the water=sediment interface is too low, energy transmission into and out of the sediment is facilitated. Low frequency signals also have greater ability to penetrate the seafloor. In both cases it is recognized that sediment volume heterogeneity in the form of layering, bioturbations, gas bubbles, and the sediments inherent granularity plays a major role in controlling the acoustic response of the material (Jackson and Richardson 2007). On the other hand, the responses from high-frequency acoustic

Figure 1. Study area with core locations.

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signals which show very small or no penetration at all, are primarily related to seafloor roughness. Study Area The study area is located at central portion of the Santos Basin, southeastern Brazil, between the 70 m and 2200 m isobaths (Figure 1). The Santos Basin is one of the most important off-shore sedimentary basins in Brazil and has an area of approximately 200,000 km2. The continental shelf at the study area has a maximum width of 250 km and the shelf break is located approximately at the 200 m isobath. The sedimentary coverage at the inner continental shelf is composed of muds and silts of continental origin with small amounts of sands and carbonatic debris. The outer shelf sedimentary cover is characterized by a mixture of coarse to very coarse carbonatic sediment, mainly composed of shell and corals fragments, with muddy matrix. At the continental slope the seafloor is characterized by essentially muddy sediments with minor amounts of coarse material.

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Methodology
Sediment samples were collected using a large (50 cm x 50 cm) box-corer. From the material collected three sub-samples were taken with a 100 mm PVC liner for geological, geotechnical, and physical properties analysis. The Vp and gamma density (q) were determined using a Multisensor Core Logger (MSCL) from Geotek which automatically scans each core section as it passes through the sensors and expresses measurements in meters per second (m=s), grams per cubic centimeter (g=cm3), respectively. Porosity was calculated directly MSCL by assuming fully saturated conditions and sediment matrix and pore water density to be 2.6 g=cm3 and 1.030 g=cm3, respectively, according to Evans (1965) and is expressed by the dimensionless void ratio. Grain size analyses were conducted using a laser particle analyzer Mastersize 2000 and the results are expressed mean grain size (/) according to Pettijohn (1975). The acoustic impedance (Z) was calculated by multiplying the sound velocity by the density of the medium and is expressed in SI units (kg=s m2). Water content (W) was determined using conventional laboratory procedures and is expressed in weight percentage (W%). Shear strength was determined using a hand held Torvane and is expressed kPa. Measurements were made every two centimeters on the eight cores collected. Table 1. Coordinates and depth of the core Core number S1 S2 S3 S4 S5 S6 S7 S8 Latitude (S) 25 06,835 24 28,653 24 01,109 24 58,029 25 13,527 25 21,992 24 11,567 23 26,121 Longitude (W) 043 17,803 044 16,386 045 11,674 044 43,925 044 59,627 044 15,144 043 36,076 043 08,194 Depth (m) 2104 415 70 350 170 1930 200 115 Sample length (cm) 45 50 30 50 25 45 50 45

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Results
According to the results of the average grain size for each sample, we were able to identify three groups of sediments (Table 1). The first one (G1), which includes cores S1 and S6 (the deeper ones, collected at 2104 m and 1930 m water depth, respectively) are predominantly characterized by muddy sediments (clay silt >85%) and show mean PHI values above 6. The second group (G2) comprises cores S2, S4 and S7 which are located at the shelf-break and upper continental slope (water depths of 415 m, 350 m, and 200 m, respectively). Despite the large silt content, the sediments of this group show higher contents of the sand and gravel fraction (up to 41%) resulting in mean PHI values between 4 and 6. The third group (G3) contains the coarser sediments, with gravel plus sand content higher than 75%, and mean PHI values below 4. The cores pertaining to this group (S3, S5, and S8) are located at the continental shelf. The coarse fraction is basically composed of shell and coral fragments with some quartzose sand associated. Table 2 shows that the other physical parameters behave approximately the same way and follow the same distribution within the groups. Sediments from group 1 showed the lowest average value of acoustic impedance and the highest for void ratio, water content and shear strength. On the other hand, sediments from group 3 showed the highest average value for acoustic impedance and the lowest values for void ratio, water content and shear strength. Sediments from group 2 showed values between the two extremes for all investigated physical parameters. To understand the behavior of the acoustic impedance in the sediments of the study area, two plots (Vp versus impedance and density versus impedance) are shown in Figures 2 and 3. It can be seen that the acoustic impedance is much more Table 2. Physical properties according to sedimentological groups (Vp measurements were conducted with 250 kHz transducers) Acoustic Density impedance (g=cm3) (kg=s m2) 1.157 1.645 1.489 0.12 1.498 1.810 1.658 0.07 1.365 1.882 1.684 0.12 1.719 2.409 2.174 0.18 2.231 2.815 2.502 0.14 2.095 3.017 2.577 0.23 Mean Water Shear grain content strength size (W%) (kPa) (u) 1.177 26.478 11.231 7.99 0.196 25.890 9.390 7.34 2.452 19.613 8.910 5.11 5.416 6.994 6.513 0.38 2.728 6.540 4.801 0.95 0.799 4.398 2.947 0.96

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Vp (m=s) G1 Minimum Maximum Average St. Deviation G2 Minimum Maximum Average St. Deviation G3 Minimum Maximum Average St. Deviation 1440.35 1486.03 1460.05 9.23 1481.54 1559.18 1508.74 25.68 1447.86 1603.00 1529.10 36.90

Void ratio

1.787 46.967 12.193 168.620 3.197 85.248 2.07 37.47 1.200 37.048 2.654 92.942 1.766 58.211 0.32 14.61 1.015 9.338 4.084 81.641 1.724 53.398 0.61 24.58

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Figure 2. Plot between acoustic impedance and P-wave velocity.

sensitive to variations in the sediment density (r 0.98) than to variation in the Vp (r 0.79). This is because P-wave velocity shows a variation of 11% between the maximum and the minimum values. Density, on the other hand, shows variation of approximately 63%. It is also noted that sediments from the deep sea (G1) have the lowest Vp and density values, while the shallower sediments (G3) show the highest Vp and density values. Figure 4 shows the plot between acoustic impedance and mean grain size. There is a clear trend of increasing acoustic impedance with decreasing PHI, i.e., the coarser the sediment the higher the acoustic impedance. The calculated correlation coefficient is 0.60. Despite some overlapping of the data, sediments from group 1 showed the lowest range of acoustic impedance, sediments from group 3 the highest range of acoustic impedance and sediments from group 2 essentially plots between the two other groups.

Figure 3. Plot between acoustic impedance and density.

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Figure 4. Plot between acoustic impedance and mean grain size.

Figure 5 shows the plot between acoustic impedance and void ratio. Since void ratio was calculated based on the density values, a very good correlation between acoustic impedance and void ratio was to be expected (r 0.80). However, the quasi-linear positive correlation observed between acoustic impedance and density turns into an obvious negative logarithm correlation. The correlation between acoustic impedance and water content is shown in Figure 6. There is a negative trend of increasing impedance with decreasing water content. Also, there is a large overlap of data from the three groups especially for water content between 40 and 100%. Figure 7 shows the plot between shear strength and acoustic impedance. It is worthwhile to note that the sediments from the three groups showed the same range of shear strength values but are separated according to the acoustic impedance.

Figure 5. Plot between acoustic impedance and void ratio.

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Figure 6. Plot between water content and acoustic impedance.

Figure 7. Plot between shear strength and acoustic impedance.

Moreover, the samples from the three groups showed an increasing trend of shear strength with acoustic impedance. The overall correlation coefficient between the two variables is weak (r 0.30). However, when considered separately the correlation coefficients are significant for groups 1 and 2 (G1 ) r 0.72; G2 ) r 0.57) and remaining weak for group 3 (G3 ) r 0.38).

Discussion
Undisturbed samples were collected from eight different sites, from the inner continental shelf to the lower slope at the Santos Basin and their geological and geotechnical properties were plotted against acoustic impedance. With the exception of the relationship between shear strength and acoustic impedance all other

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relationships investigated showed a strong correlation with correlation coefficient values above 0.6 (Anderson and Finn 1997). Richardson and Briggs (1993) postulated that Vp and density dependency on temperature, pore water salinity, and water depth, could complicate the apparent straightforward prediction of values of sediment properties from remotely sensed sediment impedance. However, the results demonstrated that the acoustic impedance is a good parameter for the indirect investigation of geotechnical properties of the seafloor such as grain size, density, void ratio, and water content. As described by Jackson and Richardson (2007) the fine sediments collected at the deeper sites, composed mostly of clay or silt-sized particles, showed average Vp 4% less than ocean water, while the sediments composed mostly of sand-sized particles collected at the shallower sites showed average Vp approximately 2% greater than sea water. Fu et al. (2004) reported Vp values usually above 1600 m=s for coral sands off the coast of Hawaii. However, despite the relatively high content of coarse carbonatic particles in sediments from group 3, they presented Vp essentially below 1570 m=s, with only one sample showing Vp values above 1600 m=s. The amount of coarse particles was also shown to affect the bulk density of the sediment. These facts resulted in sediments from the lower slope showing acoustic impedance values up to 43% lower than the shallower sediments. Such differences would give rise to considerable differences in the amount of acoustic energy, generated either by high-resolution seismic or by sediment classification systems, and reflected back from the seafloor. The reflected energy is expressed by the peak amplitude and the echo-length. The latter is a function of the signal frequency and impedance contrast between the sediment and the overlying water, which are the main factors controlling energy penetration. In general, signal penetration is expected to decrease with an increasing sounder frequency and impedance contrast (Van Walree et al. 2005). The relationship between shear strength and acoustic impedance needs more careful analysis. Shear strength is a soil mechanics parameter used to describe the magnitude of the shear stress that a soil can sustain and is a result of friction and interlocking of particles, and possibly cementation or bonding at particle contacts (Buchan et al. 1972). In fine soft sediments the shear strength is a result of electrochemical bounding between particles. As the compaction takes place, pore water is squeezed out and friction between grains gets more important as the main factor controlling shear strength. Naturally occurring marine sediments may present variable quantities of coarse material disturbing the structural lattice and providing its own mechanical structure by grain-to-grain contact. In this case, the contact area between grains is much smaller, reducing the strength of the sediment. This fact would explain the lowest and more random shear strength values observed in sediments from group 3. Brand et al. (2003) studying deep water sediments from the southern Green Canyon area of the Gulf of Mexico, observed a relationship between shear strength and acoustic impedance establishing an exponential trend line equation. This result is very similar, including the impedance values, to the one observed in the present study for the sediment from groups 1 and 2.

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Conclusions
The main difficulty of assessing geotechnical properties of the seafloor is related to deformation of the sediments due to the different sample procedures. This problem

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has been partially resolved with the development of in-situ measurement techniques for the evaluation of the geotechnical condition of the seafloor. The present study suggests that the study of the acoustic properties of seafloor sediments, and the manner in which they vary, can lead to an assessment of the regional variation of some geotechnical properties of the sea-floor. The results indicate that this is especially true concerning the correlation of the acoustic impedance, rather then the Vp values, with some geotechnical properties such as mean grain size, void ratio and water content. The most common application of this result is the seismic amplitude map of a reflector of interest. As acoustic impedance controls the reflectivity of the sea-floor, it should be possible to measure this property from echosounding and high-resolution seismic responses and assess in some way the mechanical strength of the sea-floor. In the present research, the effects of some soil properties such as particle shape, mineralogy of the soil particles, and chemistry of the pore water on density and P-wave propagation velocity were not taken into consideration. Moreover, some data dispersion may result from the techniques used to determine sediments physical properties, especially concerning shear strength. Further investigations should focus on the relationship between acoustic impedance and peak amplitude and echo-length of the traces, from both highresolution seismic and single-beam sediment classification systems.

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