We been hearing and reading about greenhouse gasses for years now. Gasses that come from our power-plants, cars, farm animals and permafrost to name a few. There’s one place that we seldom think about or get a chance to see but it covers about 70% of the earth – the ocean bottom.
There is a compound called methane hydrate or methane clathrate, known better as “fire ice”. It forms under the high pressures and cold temperatures of the deep sea where methane is forced into the crystalline structure of ice. The hydrates can exist there for millions of years continuing to build up.
Hydrate compounds were first discovered in the early 1800s in the laboratory of two scientists, Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday, who were experimenting with chlorine-water mixtures. They noticed that ice was formed at temperatures higher than the normal freezing point of water. Hydrates were thought to not occur naturally so they were only interesting to scientists. That is until the 1930’s when they were found to form in and clog natural gas pipe lines in colder climates. Until this discovery methane hydrate was thought to occur only in the outer regions of the solar system where temperatures are low and ice is common.
We all remember how the “Deep-water horizon’s” first cap and piping was plugged by ice – this was a hydrate.
Major deposits of methane hydrate were later discovered in the 1960’s in Siberia as part of drilling operations in a natural gas field. The were also discovered in the ground below the permafrost on the northern slope of Alaska in 1972. Large deposits of methane hydrate were and are being discovered under oceans sediments as oil drilling operations and scientific exploration work increases all over the world. It’s distribution is worldwide but the largest deposits are found in the arctic and along the margins of continental shelves.
Worldwide the amount of methane in gas hydrates is conservatively estimated to contain twice the amount of carbon found in all the known fossil fuels on Earth.
As global warming continues to progress the permafrost and shallow water methane hydrates will start to melt. This will release their methane gas which will accelerate the warming cycle. The role of methane gas from the methane hydrates in global warming is increasing.
These links tell you more about it. Naturally occurring methane releases are called “cold seeps” and entire ecosystems have formed around them. This video link will explain it in more detail.
Think Global – Act Local!