What to do About Methane Hydrates – Ideas Anyone?

methane hydrates from global carbon project

We have included some basic information and relevant links on the subject of methane hydrates. The reader can draw their own conclusions as to what the right course of action is. One thing seems obvious though we need to curb the rise in sea temperature to avoid the possibility of a massive release of CO2 and Methane ( a greenhouse gas worse than CO2) into the atmosphere from these frozen deposits. Our emphasis needs to quickly shift from more fossil fuel exploration to clean energy from renewable sources.

( photo credit : http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/global/images/general/MethaneHydrates_1a.JPG )

Vast amounts of methane hydrate are buried in sediment deposits on the continental slopes. The total global amount of methane carbon bound up in these hydrate deposits is in the order of 1000 to 5000 gigatonnes – i.e. about 100 to 500 times more carbon than is released annually into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). At low temperatures the methane hydrates on the sea floor are stable, but if the water and the sea floor become warmer, then the hydrates can break down.

Because microorganisms then oxidize the resulting methane gas to form the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2), methane hydrates have recently become a topic of intense discussion within the context of climate change. Methane, which itself acts as a strong greenhouse gas, does not escape directly out of the sea as methane because it is transformed into CO2. But the formation and release of carbon dioxide are considerable.

(excerpt source: http://worldoceanreview.com/en/wor-1/energy/methane-hydrates/)

The U.S Government has a committee studying Methane Hydrates. 

Three goals of the U.S. Methane Hydrate Advisory Council – Minutes from June 2013 Meeting

1- to analyze current availability of methane hydrate information and data.

2- to address environmental and climate issues.

3- to identify and realize methane hydrate production opportunities. ( This is one that worries us, I guess this why Exxon was there )

What to do?

The Clathrate Gun Hypothesis.

According to the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis, episodic atmospheric CH4 emissions resulting from instability of the hydrate reservoir contributed significantly to the distinctive behavior of late Quaternary climate change on orbital (Milankovitch) and millennial time scales. Resulting CH4 releases to the atmosphere provided a crucial trigger for abrupt warmings, reinforced by other greenhouse gases, including water vapor.

A growing body of evidence exists in support of major methane transfer from ocean (and lake) floor through the water column (and hence into the atmosphere) based on an increasing diversity of proxies. These inferred emissions often occurred during major climate transitions on orbital and millennial time scales. (excerpt

Late Quaternary hydrate instability seems to have resulted from frequent, rapid upper intermediate water temperature oscillations on upper continental margins in the depth zone of potential hydrate instability. This instability is reflected by widespread development of slumps, debris flows, and pockmarks and associated mass sediment transport. Much of this activity was not random, but appears to have been focused at intervals of major climatic warming. Evidence for instability of the methane hydrate system during the late Quaternary implies concern for modern climate responses to global warming.

source: http://esd.lbl.gov/seminar_series/abstracts/kennett.html)

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