The Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contributed to a four-year international effort by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to formulate a just-released report entitled, “Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrates.”
The two-volume UNEP 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, editing, and reviews to assist formulation of the UNEP report.
Gas hydrate is a frozen form of gas and water that occurs naturally at moderate pressure and low temperature. These conditions are characteristic of continuous permafrost and marine sediments at water depths greater than ~350 meters (~1150 ft). Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the most common gas incorporated into global gas hydrate deposits. Gas hydrate sequesters about 1600 billion metric tons (~1800 billion US tons) of carbon or about 25% of the global budget of carbon that can move around the earth-ocean-atmosphere system.
“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 UNEP report serves an important part of our outreach mission.”
The first volume of the report 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 I of the UNEP report also considers how gas hydrates interact with the environment on a small-scale (for example, the link betweengas hydrates and deep marine biological communities), and globally (for example, the interplay between gas hydrates and climate).
“We were pleased to work with UNEP, the U.S. Department of Energy, and others 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 discusses gas hydrates as a potential energy resource, 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.
The USGS has a globally recognized research program studying natural gas hydrates in deepwater and permafrost settings worldwide. 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.