A decrease in temperature (ΔT up to 45.5 °C) and chloride concentration (ΔCl up to 4.65 mol/l) characterises the brine–seawater boundary in the Atlantis-II, Discovery, and Kebrit Deeps of the Red Sea, where redox conditions change from anoxic to oxic over a boundary layer several meters thick. High-resolution (100 cm) profiles of the methane concentration, stable carbon isotope ratio of methane, and redox-sensitive tracers (O2, Mn4+/Mn2+, Fe3+/Fe2+, and SO42−) were measured across the brine–seawater boundary layer to investigate methane fluxes and secondary methane oxidation processes.
Substantial amounts of thermogenic hydrocarbons are found in the deep brines (mostly methane, with a maximum concentration up to 4.8×105 nmol/l), and steep methane concentration gradients mainly controlled by diffusive flow characterize the brine–seawater boundary (maximum of 2×105 nmol/l/m in Kebrit Deep). However, locally the actual methane concentration profiles deviate from theoretical diffusion-controlled concentration profiles and extremely positive δ13C–CH4 values can be found (up to +49‰ PDB in the Discovery Deep). Both, the actual CH4 concentration profiles and the carbon-13 enrichment in the residual CH4 of the Atlantis-II and Discovery Deeps indicate consumption (oxidation) of 12C-rich CH4 under suboxic conditions (probably utilizing readily available—up to 2000 μmol/l—Mn(IV)-oxihydroxides as electron acceptor). Thus, a combined diffusion–oxidation model was used to calculate methane fluxes of 0.3–393 kg/year across the brine–seawater boundary layer. Assuming steady-state conditions, this slow loss of methane from the brines into the Red Sea bottom water reflects a low thermogenic hydrocarbon input into the deep brines.