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Oct 31 / Dave Schumaker

New Insights Into Gas Hydrate Deposits

Frozen methane is thought to occur in great abundance on the floor of Earth’s oceans. A team of scientists working with the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program have been gathering samples of these gas hydrates for further analysis. Scientists are interested in deposits of gas hydrates because they are thought to have played a role in global climate change in the past.

“We’re interested in gas hydrate because we believe these deposits have played an important role in ancient global climate change,” explains Michael Riedel of Natural Resources Canada’s Geological Survey of Canada, IODP Expedition 311’s co-chief scientist. “This expedition is the first to explore a transect of deep drilling research sites across the Cascadia Continental Margin and will yield new data that will help us understand the deep origin of the methane that composes the gas hydrate, how the methane is transported into the sediments where gas hydrate exists, and how methane is eventually released into the ocean, and possibly, into the atmosphere where it could impact climate.”

“What we’ve found will fundamentally change how we investigate the impact of gas hydrate deposits,” confirms IODP co-chief scientist Timothy S. Collett of the U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, Colo. “Expedition 311 has shown that the occurrence of gas hydrate is much more complex than predicted. Instead of finding gas hydrate concentrated in one layer,” he explains, “near the base of the zone where it is stable, higher concentrations of gas hydrate were found within coarse-grained sand layers throughout core samples from most of the sites drilled.”

The USGS also has a fact sheet on methane gas hydrates. One other interesting note is that it has been hypothesized that gas hydrates may have played a part in the Permian-Triassic extinction 251 million years ago.

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