Abstract

We report observations that concern formation and dissociation of gas hydrate near the sea floor at depths of ∼540 m in the northern Gulf of Mexico. In August 1992, three lobes of gas hydrate were partly exposed beneath a thin layer of sediment. By May 1993, the most prominent lobe had evidently broken free and floated away, leaving a patch of disturbed sediment and exposed hydrate. The underside of the gas hydrate was about 0.2 °C warmer than ambient sea water and had trapped a large volume of oil and free gas. An in situ monitoring device, deployed on a nearby bed of mussels, recorded sustained releases of gas during a 44 day monitoring period. Gas venting coincided with a temporary rise in water temperature of 1 °C, which is consistent with thermally induced dissociation of hydrate composed mainly of methane and water. We conclude that the effects of accumulating buoyant force and fluctuating water temperature cause shallow gas hydrate alternately to check and release gas venting.

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