Gas hydrate mapped at several European sites

Sites containing gas hydrate – a fuel that could bridge the gap between fossil fuels and renewables – have been mapped in a study led by Southampton University.

gas hydrate
Launching electromagnetic surveying equipment off Svalbard (Credit: Hector Marin Moreno)

This new inventory of gas hydrate deposits was undertaken as part of MIGRATE (Marine Gas Hydrates: An Indigenous Resource of Natural Gas for Europe), a European Commission-funded project led by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel.

According to Southampton, substantial amounts of natural gas are stored in an ice-like form under the deep seafloor and close to edge of the landmasses that form continents. This gas hydrate could help as an intermediate source of fuel until there is sufficient renewable energy to meet society’s demands.

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The research showed there are direct or indirect indications of the presence of hydrate at several European sites, including off the west and east coasts of Greenland, on and around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard (Barents Sea), off central Norway and west of Ireland. It is also present in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Marmara in Turkey, and the Black Sea.

In a statement, Southampton’s Prof Tim Minshull, who led a 31 strong-team from 14 countries, said: “We found that gas hydrate is particularly widespread around Svalbard, off Norway and in the Black Sea, but the hydrate systems have only been well investigated in a few areas, so there could be much still to discover.

“Exploiting gas hydrate deposits safely and efficiently presents challenges, for example, converting the hydrate to gas without using up too much energy. But several large feasibility projects are exploring these and other factors.”

As well as isolating potential sites as a source of fuel, the study may also be important for more acute environmental reasons: the hydrate could melt if oceans continue warming, which would result in the release of methane that could change the chemical balance of the oceans. Mapping where this might happen will help scientists to monitor progress.

The results of this study are published in Marine and Petroleum Geology.