Dynamics of gas hydrates in polar marine environments.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Sch of Ocean and Earth Science


Almost half of the Earth's carbon is stored in gas hydrates and related shallow gas deposits. Numerical models predict that this reservoir is highly mobile and that escaping gas has a significant potential to accelerate climate change releasing as much as 2000 Gt of methane over a short period of time. As methane is a potent greenhouse gas it would course further global warming. Arctic gas hydrates are most vulnerable to future climate change because (1) it is predicted that temperatures will increase faster in the Arctic than in low latitudes (2) the intercept of the gas hydrate stability zone with the seabed is within the reach of fast warming surface waters and (3) the water column above the vulnerable zone of gas hydrates is smaller than in warmer oceans facilitating more efficient transport of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We propose an interdisciplinary consortium to quantify the present amount of gas hydrates through seismic methods, to measure current methane flux from the seabed to the atmosphere, to detect the effects of postglacial warming on the gas hydrate system, and to predict the effect of a range of future temperature changes on the gas hydrates. This information will allow a detailed assessment of the mobility of Arctic gas hydrates and it will significantly decrease the uncertainties involved in climate modelling.


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Krey V (2009) Gas hydrates: entrance to a methane age or climate threat? in Environmental Research Letters

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Nisbet EG (2009) Atmospheric science. Shifting gear, quickly. in Science (New York, N.Y.)

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Sarkar S (2011) Switching of a paleo-ice stream in northwest Svalbard in Quaternary Science Reviews

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Sarkar S (2015) Seismic reflection imaging of mixing processes in Fram Strait in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

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Veloso-Alarcón M (2019) Variability of Acoustically Evidenced Methane Bubble Emissions Offshore Western Svalbard in Geophysical Research Letters

Description The main discovery from this grant was that methane is escaping into the ocean through at more than 250 sites at 200-400 m depth west of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic. Most of the gas escape sites are concentrated at the landward limit of stability of ice-like methane hydrate, and this localised concentration may be attributed to the melting of hydrate in response to ocean warming over the last few decades. Other work supported by the grant explored details of the timing of gas escape and the geological controls on this escape.
Exploitation Route The project has led to a host of follow-up research projects, has had widespread media coverage, and has increased interest in the effect of methane hydrate melting on global climate.
Sectors Energy,Environment

URL http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk/project/EA6937C3-8F17-40ED-B0B6-A5E46FBD5993
Description The project attracted widespread media interest and interest from government (DECC), and results have influenced thinking about the importance of methane hydrates in global climate models.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services