Methane Gas Hydrates
Scientists at Cardiff University have discovered the presence of large concentrations of methane gas trapped in the ocean floor. This gas is due to dying and decomposing sea organisms, or serpentinization. The sediment contains bacteria that produce methane, which accumulates as super concentrated methane ice, called gas hydrates. The layer of ice traps the methane gas, and scientists are studying it as a potential energy source.
What is methane?
Methane is an extremely flammable and explosive gas. At the bottom of the ocean it is found in a form called 'methane hydrate', when the particles are locked in a lattice with water. When this melts, it releases methane gas with 160 times this volume. Methane hydrate is found deep in the oceans, more than 350m down. It is estimated that there is more than 200,000 trillion cubic feet of this gas at the bottom of the ocean; 80,000 times conventional natural gas reserves.
How is it released?
Small bursts of methane hydrate can be released by sudden events that break the lattice, such as landslides and earthquakes on the ocean floor. This releases a large amount of methane from the local area. This has been suggested as a possible explanation for the Bermuda Triangle - an area of ocean in the South Atlantic where dozens of ships and planes have disappeared without trace. The theory goes that landslides release the methane, which explodes on contact with, for example, a plane's engines. This shows how dangerous even small bursts can be.
It would take a bigger event than an earthquake or landslide to start releasing vast quantities of methane hydrate. The current fear is that global warming would increase the ocean temperature to the point where frozen methane starts to melt all over the world.
These methane gas pockets on eruption, rise to the surface of the sea and can create a gaseous hole in the water so large that even an oil tanker could plunge into it and...
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