Methane hydrates and global climate


  • Keith A. Kvenvolden


Methane hydrates are globally widespread in permafrost regions and beneath the sea in sediment of outer continental margins. The amount of methane sequestered in gas hydrates is probably enormous, but estimates of the amounts are speculative and range over three orders of magnitude (about 103 to 106 GT (gigatons = 1015 g)). A question of current interest concerns the possible consequences of an addition of methane to the atmosphere from destabilized methane hydrates due to global warming. Models of greenhouse warming predict that climatic change will be greatest in the Arctic. Thus, if methane from destabilized gas hydrates contributes to greenhouse warming, this destabilization will most likely take place first in the Arctic, particularly in the shallow nearshore regions of the Arctic Ocean where offshore permafrost is found. The process of permafrost warming and release of methane from gas hydrates may already be in progress, but the amount being released now and to be released in the 21st century is probably small. The positive feedback of this atmospheric methane on global climates will likely be minimal.