Abstract

We have observed the process of formation of clathrate hydrates of methane in experiments conducted on the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Ventana in the deep waters of Monterey Bay. A tank of methane gas, acrylic tubes containing seawater, and seawater plus various types of sediment were carried down on Ventana to a depth of 910 m where methane gas was injected at the base of the acrylic tubes by bubble stream. Prior calculations had shown that the local hydrographic conditions gave an upper limit of 525 m for the P-T boundary defining methane hydrate formation or dissociation at this site, and thus our experiment took place well within the stability range for this reaction to occur. Hydrate formation in free seawater occurred within minutes as a buoyant mass of translucent hydrate formed at the gas-water interface. In a coarse sand matrix the filling of the pore spaces with hydrate turned the sand column into a solidified block, which gas pressure soon lifted and ruptured. In a fine-grained black mud the gas flow carved out flow channels, the walls of which became coated and then filled with hydrate in larger discrete masses. Our experiment shows that hydrate formation is rapid in natural seawater, that sediment type strongly influences the patterns of hydrate formation, and that the use of ROV technologies permits the synthesis of large amounts of hydrate material in natural systems under a variety of conditions so that fundamental research on the stability and growth of these substances is possible.

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