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Publications

Frozen Heat—New International Report on Methane Hydrates, their Role in Nature, and their Potential as an Energy Resource



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The Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contributed to a 4-year international effort by multiple partners, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to formulate a newly released report entitled “Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrates” (PDF, 8.4 MB).

The cover of the new international report on methane hydrates that was recently released by the United Nations Environment Programme
Above: USGS Gas Hydrates Project scientists participated for more than 4 years in the formulation of a new international report on methane hydrates that was recently released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). William Waite co-edited and Carolyn Ruppel reviewed volume 1, and John Pohlman, Keith Kvenvolden, Laura Stern, Timothy Collett, and others contributed imagery, results, and expert advice. The cover of the UNEP report features burning gas hydrate from the USGS laboratory of Laura Stern, Steve Kirby, and John Pinkston. [larger version]

The two-volume report reviews the state-of-the-art in science and technology related to gas hydrates, providing information in a form accessible to policy makers and stakeholders. The USGS Gas Hydrates Project contributed scientific results, imagery, editing, and reviews to assist formulation of the report.

Gas hydrate is a frozen form of gas and water that occurs naturally at moderate pressure and low temperature (“Gas Hydrates Primer”). These conditions are characteristic of continuous permafrost and marine sediments at water depths greater than approximately 350 meters (1,150 feet). Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the most common gas incorporated into global gas hydrate deposits. Gas hydrate sequesters about 1,600 billion metric tons (1,800 billion U.S. tons) of carbon, or as much as 25 percent of the global budget of carbon that can move around the earth-ocean-atmosphere system.

Methane bubbles emerge from the seafloor and form translucent icy hydrate shells on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico in 2014
Above: Methane bubbles emerge from the seafloor and form translucent icy hydrate shells on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico in 2014. The white surfaces are bacterial mats, which are common in areas of methane and sulfide emission. Bubbles are estimated to be a few centimeters in diameter. Methane emitted into the ocean is often oxidized to carbon dioxide in the water column, increasing the acidity and decreasing the oxygen content of ocean waters. Methane that reaches the atmosphere can contribute to global warming. Image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Exploration program. [larger version]

“The USGS plays an active leadership role in gas hydrate research nationally and internationally,” said USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator Brenda Pierce. “Having USGS experts join with other scientists to present current scientific knowledge to a broad audience in this report serves an important part of our outreach mission.”

The first volume of the report (PDF, 20.7 MB) focuses on the history of gas hydrate research and describes how and where gas hydrates form. USGS research featured prominently in this volume, as USGS scientists have studied the formation and occurrence of gas hydrates all over the world, including Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and internationally in countries like Japan, Korea, and India.

Volume 1 of the report also considers how gas hydrates interact with the environment on a small scale (for example, the link between gas hydrates and deep marine biological communities; see “Chemosynthetic Communities and Gas Hydrates at Cold Seeps South of Nantucket”), and globally (for example, the interplay between gas hydrates and climate; see “Gas Hydrates and Climate Warming—Why a Methane Catastrophe Is Unlikely”).

“We were pleased to work with U.S. and international partners to contribute scientific expertise to this effort,” said Carolyn Ruppel, chief of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project. “The report dovetails with our project’s emphasis on gas hydrates in the natural environment and on the climate and energy-resource implications of methane hydrates.”

Volume 2 (PDF, 7.5 MB) discusses gas hydrates as a potential energy resource (see USGS Energy Resources Program—Gas Hydrates), including consideration of the technology needed to extract gas from methane hydrates. USGS scientists have long been active in this research area and participated in tests of methane production from natural gas hydrates in permafrost areas, such as Alaska’s North Slope (“Mount Elbert Gas Hydrate Stratigraphic Test Well”).

The Mount Elbert stratigraphic test well, drilled at Milne Point on Alaska’s North Slope
Above: The Mount Elbert Gas Hydrate Stratigraphic Test Well was drilled at Milne Point on Alaska’s North Slope in 2007 to investigate permafrost-associated gas hydrates as a potential energy resource. Tim Collett played a key role in the formulation and execution of this project, which was carried out by the U.S. Department of Energy and various partners. Image courtesy of Rick Colwell, Oregon State University. [larger version]

The USGS has a globally recognized research program studying natural gas hydrates in deepwater and permafrost settings worldwide (http://woodshole.er.usgs.gov/project-pages/hydrates/). USGS researchers focus on the potential of gas hydrates as an energy resource, the impact of climate change on gas hydrates, and seafloor stability issues.


Related Sound Waves Stories
Gas Hydrates and Climate Warming—Why a Methane Catastrophe Is Unlikely
May / June 2012
Groundbreaking Gas Hydrate Research
Mar. / Apr. 2013
USGS Gas Hydrates Project Hosts Japanese Colleagues to Advance Collaboration on Nankai Trough Hydrate-Bearing Pressure Cores
July / August 2014
Gas Hydrate in the Northern Gulf of Mexico Has Puzzling Characteristics and Could Pose a Hazard to Deep Drilling
July 2003

Related Websites
Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrates (PDF, 8.4 MB)
UNEP
USGS Gas Hydrates Project—Gas Hydrates
USGS
Gas Hydrates Primer
USGS
Chemosynthetic Communities and Gas Hydrates at Cold Seeps South of Nantucket
NOAA
Volume 1 of the report (PDF, 20.7 MB)
UNEP
Volume 2 of the report (PDF, 7.5 MB)
UNEP

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in this issue:

Research
Virus Calculated as Culprit Killing Sea Stars

Scientific Portrait of the Largest Dam Removal in U.S. History

California Seafloor Mapping Program Reaches Milestone

Future Wave and Wind Effects on Pacific Islands

Fieldwork
California’s Sea Otter Numbers Holding Steady

New USGS Research Vessel in the Great Lakes

Spotlight on Sandy
Five New USGS Oceanographic Datasets Published Online

Outreach
Explore Coastal and Seafloor Images along U.S. Coasts

Getting Out of Harm’s Way—Evacuation from Tsunamis

USGS at the 2014 St. Petersburg Science Festival in Florida

Tribal GIS Training in the Northeast U.S.

Undamming Washington’s Elwha River—Public Lecture

Awards
Geologist Brian Atwater Receives Communications Award

Publications
Frozen Heat—New International Report on Methane Hydrates

Jan. / Feb. Publications

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