What are gas hydrates?

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. It is not stable at normal sea-level pressures and temperatures, which is the primary reason that it is a challenge to study.

Gas hydrates are important for three reasons:

  • They may contain a major energy resource
  • It may be a significant hazard because it alters sea floor sediment stability, influencing collapse and landsliding
  • The hydrate reservoir may have strong influence on the environment and climate, because methane is a significant greenhouse gas.

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Where are gas hydrates found?

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.

Who studies gas hydrates?

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:...

How are gas hydrates studied?

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.
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Date published: March 8, 2018

Modern Perspective on Gas Hydrates

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: October 18, 2017

EarthWord–Gas Hydrate

No, this EarthWord isn’t how natural gas quenches its thirst-it just sounds like it...

Date published: January 4, 2017

Exploring Gas Hydrates as a Future Energy Source

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: May 14, 2013

New Insight on Gas Hydrates in Gulf of Mexico

Research is Part of a Long-Standing, Interagency Collaboration — Scientists have returned from a 15‑day research expedition in the northern Gulf of Mexico with the best high-resolution seismic data and imagery ever obtained of sediments with high gas hydrate saturations.

Date published: February 13, 2013

Groundbreaking Gas Hydrate Research

A new project in Japan is helping scientists make significant progress in studying gas hydrates as a potential source for natural gas production. This research advances understanding of the global distribution of gas hydrates as well as whether and how methane contained in gas hydrates can be used as a viable energy source.

Date published: November 7, 2006

International Team Completes Gas Hydrate Expedition in the Offshore of India

The first scientific results from a recently completed expedition that explored for gas hydrate off the coast of India will be presented by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists at the Third International Association of Exploration Geophysicists Meeting in Hyderabad, India, on November 8.

Date published: December 10, 2003

Gas Hydrates - Will They be Considered in the Future Global Energy Mix?

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.

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Image shows a cross-section of the seafloor showing gas hydrate locations
February 8, 2017

Gas Hydrate Schematic

Summary of the locations where gas hydrate occurs beneath the seafloor, in permafrost areas, and beneath some ice sheets, along with the processes (shown in red) that destroy methane (sinks) in the sediments, ocean, and atmosphere.  The differently colored circles denote different sources of methane.  Gas hydrates are likely breaking down now on shallow continental

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Image shows an undersea gas hydrate formation with shellfish on it.
February 8, 2017

Gulf of Mexico Gas Hydrate Formation

Gas hydrate (white, ice-like material) under authigenic carbonate rock that is encrusted with deep-sea chemosynthetic mussels and other organisms on the seafloor of the northern Gulf of Mexico at 966 m (~3170 ft) water depth.  Although gas hydrate that forms on the seafloor is not an important component of the global gas hydrate inventory, deposits such as these

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Image: Gas Hydrates Burning
March 14, 2016

Gas Hydrates Burning

An image of gas hydrates burning. Gas hydrates are naturally-occurring “ice-like” combinations of natural gas and water that have the potential to provide an immense resource of natural gas from the world’s oceans and polar regions.

Image shows gas hydrates in marine sediments from a drill core
December 31, 2006

Gas Hydrates in Marine Sediments from the Indian Ocean

This image shows gas hydrates (the white material) in marine sediments from a test well drilled in the Indian Ocean in 2006 during the Indian National Gas Hydrate Program (NGHP) Expedition 01.

The NGHP Expedition 01 was designed to study the gas-hydrate occurrences off the Indian Peninsula and along the Andaman convergent margin with special emphasis on

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Image shows gas hydrates in marine sediments with a ruler along the side to show scale
December 31, 2006

Gas Hydrates in Marine Sediments

This image shows gas hydrates (the white material) in marine sediments from a test well drilled in the Indian Ocean in 2006 during the Indian National Gas Hydrate Program (NGHP) Expedition 01.

The NGHP Expedition 01 was designed to study the gas-hydrate occurrences off the Indian Peninsula and along the Andaman convergent margin with special emphasis on

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Image shows gas hydrate samples in blue-gloved hands
December 31, 2002

Gas Hydrates in Marine Sediments off the Oregon Coast

During Ocean Drilling Program Leg 204, nine sites were cored and wireline logged on the Oregon continental margin to determine the distribution and concentration of gas hydrates in an accretionary ridge setting, investigate the mechanisms that transport methane and other gases into the gas hydrate stability zone, and obtain constraints on physical properties of gas

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Image shows gas hydrate samples in blue-gloved hands
December 31, 2002

Gas Hydrates in Marine Sediments off the Oregon Coast

During Ocean Drilling Program Leg 204, nine sites were cored and wireline logged on the Oregon continental margin to determine the distribution and concentration of gas hydrates in an accretionary ridge setting, investigate the mechanisms that transport methane and other gases into the gas hydrate stability zone, and obtain constraints on physical properties of gas

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Image shows burning gas hydrates

Burning Gas Hydrates

Natural gas from gas hydrates burning. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the most common of the gases that form gas hydrate. In fact, the amount of natural gas within the world’s gas hydrate accumulations is estimated to greatly exceed the volume of all known conventional gas resources. Because of that potential, the USGS and academic, government, and

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