Pillars of Fire, Poison Gas--and Gobs of Oil, Too

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Science  18 Jan 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5554, pp. 431
DOI: 10.1126/science.295.5554.431

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The Caspian's geopolitical stardom belies its humble origin 10 million years ago as a brackish, landlocked remnant of the long-gone Tethys Sea. Born in an era of violent tectonic activity, the Caspian remains a seismic hot spot today where oceanic crust creeping northward thrusts beneath continental crust underlying the Caspian's upper basin. The result is a hellish seascape, wracked by earthquakes and riddled with hydrocarbon seeps and mud volcanoes, that poses a huge challenge for oil extraction--and offers loads of scientific puzzles.