The seep field studied by UCSB is located in the Santa Barbara Channel offshore of Coal Oil Point, California. The seeps are distributed along seafloor anticline hinge fractures and consist of oil-covered natural gas bubbles and oil bubbles. The seeps occur between 20 and 60 meters of water along the fractures within a few kilometers of the shoreline. The hydrocarbons are leaking from an oil reservoir 1500 meters below the sea floor.
The source rock for this region of intense natural seeps is the Miocene Monterey Formation shale. Local anticlines and faults are created by continuing tectonism along the boundary of the Pacific and North American plates and control the locations of many seeps.
The seeps are frequented by many different types of fishes and bacterial mats of the genus Beggiatoa are found on the ocean floor near seep vents.