U.S. Geological Survey Gas Hydrates Project
Schematic showing the general setting of seeps on the Atlantic margin
Gas hydrate (methane ice) mixed with gray sediment
Scanning electron microscope image of gas hydrate crystals
Ice-like gas hydrates under capping rock encrusted with mussels
Science Center Objects
The USGS Gas Hydrates Project focuses on the study of natural gas hydrates in deepwater marine systems and permafrost areas. The primary goals are:
- Evaluate methane hydrates as a potential energy source
- Investigate the interaction between methane hydrate destabilization and climate change at short and long time scales, particularly in the Arctic
- Study the spatial and temporal connections between submarine slope failures and gas hydrate dynamics
The Gas Hydrate Project conducts multidisciplinary field studies, participates in national and international deep drilling expeditions, and maintains a laboratory program focused on hydrate-bearing sediments.
The USGS Gas Hydrates Project focuses on gas hydrates in the natural environment and seeks to advance understanding of (a) the potential of gas hydrates as an energy resource; (b) the role of gas hydrates in climate change, as well as their susceptibility to climate change; and (c) gas hydrates and the stability of submarine slopes. The Gas Hydrates Project maintains an extensive laboratory program to support research in these core areas.
The USGS Gas Hydrates Project has been making contributions to advance understanding of US and international gas hydrates science for over two decades. The research group working on gas hydrates at the USGS is among the largest in the US and has expertise in all the major geoscience disciplines, as well as in the physics and chemistry of gas hydrates, the geotechnical properties of hydrate-bearing sediments, and the biogeochemistry of marine and permafrost gas hydrate systems. The group includes field-based scientists, numerical modelers, laboratory scientists, and supporting technical personnel for marine, permafrost, and laboratory operations. Much of the research is carried out in collaboration with other federal agencies or academic partners, and there are frequently opportunities to collaborate on international programs that jointly serve the Project's mission and the goals of the international partners.
Below are other science research themes associated with this project.
Date published: September 18, 2018Status: Active
In late August 2018, scientists and technical staff from the USGS Coastal/Marine Hazards and Resources Program completed the acquisition of over 2000 km of multichannel seismic (MCS) data as part of the Mid-Atlantic Resource Imaging Experiment (MATRIX) conducted aboard the...
Date published: August 27, 2018Status: Completed
From May 3 to May 11, 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the British Geological Survey and with support from these two agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, and the U.S. Department of Energy, will lead an...
Date published: August 23, 2018Status: Active
The Instrumented Pressure Testing Chamber (IPTC)
A device for measuring the physical properties of naturally-occurring, hydrate-bearing sediment at nearly in situ pressure conditions.
Date published: August 23, 2018Status: Active
USGS scientists have a long tradition of studying submarine slope failures and were among the first to note a spatial link between slope failures and gas hydrates/gas-charged sediments. USGS Gas Hydrates scientists support the USGS Hazards Mission area through field-based surveys that refine understanding of this association and through geotechnical studies that evaluate the response of...
Date published: August 23, 2018Status: Active
Analysis of 94,000 square kilometers of multibeam water column backscatter data collected by the NOAA Okeanos Explorer mostly seaward of the shelf-break on the northern US Atlantic margin reveals more than 570 gas plumes that correspond to seafloor methane seeps. This discovery is documented in an August 2014 ...
Date published: May 2, 2018Status: Active
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) is the cornerstone of our Nation's environmental laws and was enacted to ensure that information on the environmental impacts of any Federal, or federally funded, action is available to public officials and citizens before decisions are made and before actions are taken
Date published: March 22, 2018Status: Active
Breakdown of gas hydrates due to short- or long-term climate change may release methane to the ocean-atmosphere system. Methane that reaches the atmosphere can in turn exacerbate climate warming. Studies of methane hydrate dynamics and methane release on the continental shelf and upper slope in the US Arctic and Atlantic margin are tracking these processes.
Date published: March 22, 2018Status: Active
Natural gas production from methane hydrates may someday prove viable. The USGS Gas Hydrate Project takes part in US and international programs to investigate the potential of deepwater marine and permafrost gas hydrates as an energy resource. Long-term production tests are the next step in this research.
Date published: March 19, 2018
What is Gas Hydrate?
Gas hydrate is an ice-like crystalline form of water and low molecular weight gas (e.g., methane, ethane, carbon dioxide). On Earth, gas hydrates occur naturally in some marine sediments and within and beneath permafrost. Gas hydrates have also been inferred on other planets or their moons.
At the molecular level, gas hydrate...
Below are publications associated with this project.
Year Published: 2018
The U.S. Geological Survey’s Gas Hydrates Project
The Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) focuses on the study of methane hydrates in natural environments. The project is a collaboration between the USGS Energy Resources and the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Programs and works closely with other U.S. Federal agencies, some State governments, outside research organizations...Ruppel, Carolyn D.Ruppel, C.D., 2018, The U.S. Geological Survey’s Gas Hydrates Project: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2017–3079, 4 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/fs20173079.
Gas hydrate in nature
Gas hydrate is a naturally occurring, ice-like substance that forms when water and gas combine under high pressure and at moderate temperatures. Methane is the most common gas present in gas hydrate, although other gases may also be included in hydrate structures, particularly in areas close to conventional oil and gas reservoirs. Gas hydrate is...Ruppel, Carolyn D.
The interaction of climate change and methane hydrates
Gas hydrate, a frozen, naturally-occurring, and highly-concentrated form of methane, sequesters significant carbon in the global system and is stable only over a range of low-temperature and moderate-pressure conditions. Gas hydrate is widespread in the sediments of marine continental margins and permafrost areas, locations where ocean and...Ruppel, Carolyn D.; Kessler, John D.
Subsea ice-bearing permafrost on the U.S. Beaufort Margin: 1. Minimum seaward extent defined from multichannel seismic reflection data
Subsea ice-bearing permafrost (IBPF) and associated gas hydrate in the Arctic have been subject to a warming climate and saline intrusion since the last transgression at the end of the Pleistocene. The consequent degradation of IBPF is potentially associated with significant degassing of dissociating gas hydrate deposits. Previous studies...Brothers, Laura; Herman, Bruce M.; Hart, Patrick E.; Ruppel, Carolyn D.
Subsea ice-bearing permafrost on the U.S. Beaufort Margin: 2. Borehole constraints
Borehole logging data from legacy wells directly constrain the contemporary distribution of subsea permafrost in the sedimentary section at discrete locations on the U.S. Beaufort Margin and complement recent regional analyses of exploration seismic data to delineate the permafrost's offshore extent. Most usable borehole data were acquired on a ∼...Ruppel, Carolyn D.; Herman, Bruce M.; Brothers, Laura L.; Hart, Patrick E.
Determining the flux of methane into Hudson Canyon at the edge of methane clathrate hydrate stability
Methane seeps were investigated in Hudson Canyon, the largest shelf-break canyon on the northern US Atlantic Margin. The seeps investigated are located at or updip of the nominal limit of methane clathrate hydrate stability. The acoustic identification of bubble streams was used to guide water column sampling in a 32 km2 region within the canyon's...Weinsten, A.; Navarrete, L; Ruppel, Carolyn D.; Weber, T.C.; Leonte, M.; Kellermann, M.; Arrington, E.; Valentine, D.L.; Scranton, M.L; Kessler, John D.
Ephemerality of discrete methane vents in lake sediments
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas whose emission from sediments in inland waters and shallow oceans may both contribute to global warming and be exacerbated by it. The fraction of methane emitted by sediments that bypasses dissolution in the water column and reaches the atmosphere as bubbles depends on the mode and spatiotemporal characteristics...Scandella, Benjamin P.; Pillsbury, Liam; Weber, Thomas; Ruppel, Carolyn D.; Hemond, Harold F.; Juanes, Ruben
Widespread methane leakage from the sea floor on the northern US Atlantic margin
Methane emissions from the sea floor affect methane inputs into the atmosphere, ocean acidification and de-oxygenation, the distribution of chemosynthetic communities and energy resources. Global methane flux from seabed cold seeps has only been estimated for continental shelves, at 8 to 65 Tg CH4 yr−1, yet other parts of marine continental...Skarke, Adam; Ruppel, Carolyn; Kodis, Mali'o; Brothers, Daniel S.; Lobecker, Elizabeth A.
Methane hydrates and contemporary climate change
As the evidence for warming climate became better established in the latter part of the 20th century (IPCC 2001), some scientists raised the alarm that large quantities of methane (CH4) might be liberated by widespread destabilization of climate-sensitive gas hydrate deposits trapped in marine and permafrost-associated sediments (Bohannon 2008,...Ruppel, Carolyn D.
Methane hydrate-bearing seeps as a source of aged dissolved organic carbon to the oceans
Marine sediments contain about 500–10,000 Gt of methane carbon1, 2, 3, primarily in gas hydrate. This reservoir is comparable in size to the amount of organic carbon in land biota, terrestrial soils, the atmosphere and sea water combined1, 4, but it releases relatively little methane to the ocean and atmosphere5. Sedimentary microbes convert most...Pohlman, John; Waite, William F.; Bauer, James E.; Osburn, Christopher L.; Chapman, N. Ross
Inter-laboratory comparison of wave velocity measures.
This paper presents an eight-laboratory comparison of compressional and shear wave velocities measured in F110 Ottawa sand. The study was run to quantify the physical property variations one should expect in heterogeneous, multiphase porous materials by separately quantifying the variability inherent in the measurement techniques themselves...Waite, William F.; Santamarina, J.C.; Rydzy, M.; Chong, S.H.; Grozic, J.L.H.; Hester, K.; Howard, J.; Kneafsey, T.J.; Lee, J.Y.; Nakagawa, S.; Priest, J.; Reese, E.; Koh, H.; Sloan, E.D.; Sultaniya, A.
Below are data or web applications associated with this project.
Date published: February 15, 2018
Data and calculations to support the study of the sea-air flux of methane and carbon dioxide on the West Spitsbergen margin in June 2014
This dataset collected on the West Spitsbergen margin during U.S. Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Geology Program Field Activity 2014-013-FA, which was carried out in conjunction with the University of Tromso and the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel on the R/V Helmer Hanssen.
Below are multimedia items associated with this project.
Multichannel seismic lines acquired during the 2018 MATRIX program are shown in yellow, with the locations of sonobuoy deployments indicated by orange crosses. Dotted black line is the track of the R/V Hugh R. Sharp when seismic data were not being acquired. The MATRIX surveys sampled through three large areas (purple) identified by BOEM as prospective for gas hydrate...
Multichannel seismic image collected by the USGS along 2018 MATRIX line 08, which is located ~280 km offshore of the Virginia-Maryland border at a water depth of ~3500 m.
USGS personnel leak-testing the Instrumented Pressure Testing Chamber (IPTC)
Jenny White McKee and Pete Dal Ferro of the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center retrieve two airguns during the 2018 MATRIX cruise aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp. The seismic streamer is visible on the winch in the foreground.
Jenny White McKee watches as an expendable sonobuoy leaves the launcher during the 2018 MATRIX cruise on the R/V Hugh R. Sharp. The sonobuoy deploys an antenna used to transmit received seismic signals back to the ship over radio frequencies at distances up to 15 km away.
USGS personnel configuring and deploying the streamer of hydrophone receivers on the R/V Hugh R. Sharp during the MATRIX cruise. In foreground from left to right are Nathan Miller, Wayne Baldwin, and Eric Moore from the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center.
Timeline showing past and future drilling and deep-sea coring and borehole logging expeditions as of late 2017. The goal of the permafrost and deepwater marine programs is to evaluate the potential of gas hydrate as a resource, whereas the goal of the academic ocean drilling programs is to focus on critical research questions related to natural gas hydrate deposits. DOE...
Tim Collett, USGS research geologist, presenting at the Korean Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources' (KIGAM) international program for geoscience resources.
USGS scientists, Bill Waite, Tim Collett, and Seth Haines in front of a archway in Daejeon, South Korea
Core storage facility at the the Korean Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources in Daejeon, South Korea
Below are news stories associated with this project.
Date published: September 20, 2018
Data acquired by the U.S. Geological Survey on the U.S. Atlantic Margin in August 2018 reveal new information about the distribution of gas hydrates in the sector stretching from the upper continental slope to deep water areas offshore New Jersey to North Carolina.
Date published: March 8, 2018
After lying hidden in sediments for thousands of years, delicate frozen gas structures are in the spotlight for both scientific research and the national interest. These structures, known as gas hydrate, are being investigated by scientists the world over for their possible contributions to the global energy mix, as well as their potential interaction with the environment.
Date published: February 9, 2018
The USGS Gas Hydrates Project has published two new Fact Sheets. One describes the goals and scope of the Project and the other describes "Gas Hydrates in Nature," including where they form, how they are studied, and why researchers focus on gas hydrates for energy resource and environmental studies.
Date published: April 14, 2017
Proven under Pressure: USGS Advances Capabilities for High-Pressure Seafloor Samples Containing Gas Hydrate
Meet USGS' newest laboratory!
Date published: January 4, 2017
In the past decade, the development of the Barnett, Eagle Ford, Marcellus, and other shales has dominated the national consciousness regarding natural gas. But in Alaska, another form of natural gas has been the focus of research for decades—methane hydrate.
Date published: June 16, 2016
Recent scientific work has confirmed the source, composition and origin of methane seeps on the Atlantic Ocean seafloor, discovered in 2012, where scientists never expected them to be.
Date published: March 16, 2015
The Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contributed to a four-year international effort by multiple partners, including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), to formulate a just-released report entitled, “Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrates.”
Date published: December 10, 2003
For the first time, an international research program involving the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey has proven that it is technically feasible to produce gas from gas hydrates. Gas hydrates are a naturally occurring "ice-like" combination of natural gas and water that have the potential to be a significant new source of energy from the world’s oceans and polar regions.
Date published: December 8, 1997
Future energy source, greenhouse gas, drilling hazard ... USGS Scientists Describe Latest on Gas Hydrates
Scientists are taking another look at methane in gas hydrate, which contains perhaps twice as much organic carbon as all fossil fuels on earth. This gas may prove to be an energy resource for the future.
Below are partners associated with this project.
Below are FAQ associated with this project.
Gas hydrates are a crystalline solid formed of water and gas. It looks and acts much like ice, but it contains huge amounts of methane; it is known to occur on every continent; and it exists in huge quantities in marine sediments in a layer several hundred meters thick directly below the sea floor and in association with permafrost in the Arctic...
Gas hydrates are found in sub-oceanic sediments in the polar regions (shallow water) and in continental slope sediments (deep water), where pressure and temperature conditions combine to make it stable.
Currently, groups of scientists in the U.S., Canada, Norway, Great Britain and Japan are working to try to understand gas hydrates and the role it plays in the global climate and the future of fuels. The USGS Gas Hydrates Project focuses on the study of natural gas hydrates in deepwater marine systems and permafrost areas. The primary goals are:...
Gas hydrates can be studied in the laboratory, where a machine is used to create the proper pressure and temperature conditions for hydrate formation, or it can be studied in situ using seismic data collected aboard ships and geophysical models.