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Identification of marine hydrates in situ and their distribution off the Atlantic coast of the United States

January 1, 1994

Natural gas hydrates, mostly methane hydrates, occur within seafloor sediments almost everywhere in the world’s oceans where water depths exceed 300 to 500 m, and hydrates in this setting probably contain very large quantities of methane.’ Gas hydrates have been identified in marine sediments by coring and by the response that they create in seismic reflection profiles. Our research has endeavored to refine the criteria used to recognize hydrates in seismic reflection data and to use such data to map hydrates on the United States Atlantic continential rise.

Gas hydrates in ocean floor sediments occur within a layer just below the sea floor, controlled by the pressure and temperature conditions. Actually, hydrates would be stable in deep ocean water (at depths greater than 300-500 m), but probably do not exist there due to lack of gas saturation. Furthermore, if they did form in the water the hydrates would float upward and melt at the lower pressure and higher temperature conditions found at shallower depths. However, gas is present in the sediments either as biogenic gas produced by bacteria or as thermogenic gas rising from deeper strata, and when hydrate forms in sediments it is trapped in the sedimentary matrix. Temperature increases downward through the sediments, and, although pressure also increases (which tends to make hydrate more stable), the temperature ultimately becomes too great for hydrate to exist at ambient pressure. Because the thermal gradient is fairly constant within a restricted geographic region, this stability limit will be reached at approximately the same subbottom depth everywhere in the region. The result is a zone of hydrate-cemented sediment that extends down from the sea floor; this zone can have a thickness of as much as 1000 m. 

Citation Information

Publication Year 1994
Title Identification of marine hydrates in situ and their distribution off the Atlantic coast of the United States
DOI 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1994.tb38850.x
Authors William P. Dillon, Myung W. Lee, Dwight F. Coleman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Index ID 70017021
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center