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Keywords:

  • gas hydrates;
  • methane clathrates;
  • abrupt change

[1] Vast quantities of methane are trapped in oceanic hydrate deposits, and there is concern that a rise in the ocean temperature will induce dissociation of these hydrate accumulations, potentially releasing large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. The recent discovery of active methane gas venting along the landward limit of the gas hydrate stability zone (GHSZ) on the shallow continental slope west of Spitsbergen could be an indication of this process, if the source of the methane can be confidently attributed to dissociating hydrates. In the first large-scale simulation study of its kind, we simulate shallow hydrate dissociation in conditions representative of the West Spitsbergen margin to test the hypothesis that the observed gas release originated from hydrates. The simulation results are consistent with this hypothesis, and are in remarkable agreement with the recently published observations. They show that shallow, low-saturation hydrate deposits, when subjected to temperature increases at the seafloor, can release significant quantities of methane, and that the releases will be localized near the landward limit of the top of the GHSZ. These results indicate the possibility that hydrate dissociation and methane release may be both a consequence and a cause of climate change.