Continental degassing of helium in an active tectonic setting (northern Italy): the role of seismicity

Sci Rep. 2020 Jan 13;10(1):162. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-55678-7.


In order to investigate the variability of helium degassing in continental regions, its release from rocks and emission into the atmosphere, here we studied the degassing of volatiles in a seismically active region of northern Italy (MwMAX = 6) at the Nirano-Regnano mud volcanic system. The emitted gases in the study area are CH4-dominated and it is the carrier for helium (He) transfer through the crust. Carbon and He isotopes unequivocally indicate that crustal-derived fluids dominate these systems. An high-resolution 3-dimensional reconstruction of the gas reservoirs feeding the observed gas emissions at the surface permits to estimate the amount of He stored in the natural reservoirs. Our study demonstrated that the in-situ production of 4He in the crust and a long-lasting diffusion through the crust are not the main processes that rule the He degassing in the region. Furthermore, we demonstrated that micro-fracturation due to the field of stress that generates the local seismicity increases the release of He from the rocks and can sustain the excess of He in the natural reservoirs respect to the steady-state diffusive degassing. These results prove that (1) the transport of volatiles through the crust can be episodic as function of rock deformation and seismicity and (2) He can be used to highlight changes in the stress field and related earthquakes.