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Methane hydrates store huge volumes of methane formed by the bacterial decay of organic matter or leaked from underlying oil and natural gas deposits. The active formation of methane hydrates in the shallow crust prevents methane, a greenhouse gas, from entering the atmosphere. On the other hand, warming of arctic sediments or ocean waters has the potential to cause methane hydrate to dissociate, releasing methane into the deepwater sediments, the ocean or atmosphere. DOE is conducting research to understand the mechanisms and volumes involved in these little-studied processes.
DOE environmental and climate change research projects related to Arctic methane hydrate deposits include:
- Characterization of Methane Degradation and Methane-Degrading Microbes in Alaska Coastal Waters, University of Delaware: Study methane degradation and methane-degrading microbes in order to improve predictive models of methane fluxes in the Arctic.
- Source Characterization and Temporal Variation of Methane Seepage from Thermokarst Lakes on the Alaska North Slope in Response to Arctic Climate Change, University of Alaska Fairbanks and US Geological Survey, Woods Hole, MA: characterize the source, magnitude, and temporal variability of methane seepage from Thermokarst Lakes in the Alaskan North Slope, and to assess the vulnerability of these areas to ongoing and future arctic climate change.
- Interrelation of Global Climate and the Response of Oceanic Hydrate Accumulations, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Los Alamos National Lab
- US Geological Survey Study of Beaufort Sea Hydrate
DOE environmental and climate change research projects related to marine or global methane hydrate deposits include:
- Gulf of Mexico Gas Hydrates Sea-floor Observatory Project, University of Mississippi Center for Marine Resources and Environmental Technology: The Gulf of Mexico-Hydrate Research Consortium (GOM-HRC) is developing a sea-floor station to monitor hydrates in situ.
- Integrating Natural Gas Hydrates in the Global Carbon Cycle, University of Chicago: develop a two-dimensional, basin-scale model for the deep sediment biosphere with methane dynamics to understand the distribution of hydrates on the sea floor and their vulnerability to warming of the deep ocean, thus integrating methane hydrates into the global carbon cycle.
- Remote Sensing and Sea-Truth Measurements of Methane Flux to the Atmosphere, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi: improve estimates of methane flux from submarine seeps and associated gas hydrate deposits on continental margins by compiling a remote sensing inventory of active gas and oil vents.
- Assessing the Efficacy of the Aerobic Methanotropic Biofilter in Methane Hydrate Environments, University of California, Santa Barbara: assess the efficacy of aerobic methanotrophy in preventing the escape of methane from marine, hydrate-bearing reservoirs to the atmosphere and ultimately to better define the role of aerobic methanotrophy in the global carbon cycle.
- Interrelation of Global Climate and the Response of Oceanic Hydrate Accumulations, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Los Alamos National Lab: investigate the effect of rising water temperatures on the stability of oceanic hydrate accumulations, and estimate the global quantity of hydrate-originating carbon that could reach the upper atmosphere and its impact on global climate.
- Natural Gas Hydrates in Permafrost and Marine Settings: Resources, Properties, and Environmental Issues, US Geological Survey: study the links between Late Pleistocene to contemporary climate change and the state of the gas hydrate reservoir in high-latitude regions, specifically the U.S. Arctic.