Methane seeps in shallow waters in the northern Kattegat off the Danish coast form spectacular submarine landscapes - the 'bubbling reefs' - due to carbonate-cemented sandstone structures which are colonized by brightly coloured animals and plants. These structures may be 100 m2 in area and consist of pavements, complex formations of overlying slab-type layers, and pillars up to 4 m high. The carbonate cement (high-magnesium calcite, dolomite or aragonite) is 13C-depleted, indicating that it originated as a result of microbial methane oxidation. It is believed that the cementation occurred in the subsurface and that the rocks were exposed by subsequent erosion of the surrounding unconsolidated sediment. The formations are interspersed with gas vents that intermittently
release gas, primarily methane, at up to 25 1 h-' The methane most likely originated from the
microbial decomposition of plant material eposited during the Eemian and early Weichselian periods, i.e. l00 000 to 125 000 years B.P. Aerobic methane oxidation in the sediment was restricted Lo the upper 4 cm in muddy sand and to the upper 13 cm In coarse sand. Maximum aerobic methane oxidation rates ranged from 4.8 to 45.6 pm01 dm-3 d". The rock surfaces and epifauna around the seeps were also sites of methane-oxidizing activity. Integrated sulphate reduction rates for the upper 10 cm of muddy sand gave 4.2 to 26.6 mm01 m-2 d-' These rates are higher than those previously reported from similar water depths in the Kattegat but did not relate to the sediment methane content. Since gas venting occurs over several km2 of the sea floor in the Kattegat it is likely to make a significant local contribution to the cycling of elements in the sediment and the water column. The rocks support a diverse ecosystem ranging from bacteria to macroalgae and anthozoans. Many animals live within the rocks in holes bored by sponges, polychaetes and bivalves. Stable carbon isotope composition (6'") of tissues of invertebrates from the rocks were in the range -17 to -24 'A, indicating that methane-derived
carbon makes little direct contribution to their nutrition. Within the sediments surrounding the seeps there is a poor metazoan fauna, in terms of abundance, diversity and biomass. This may be a result of toxicity due to hydrogen sulphide input from the gas.