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ABSTRACT: Gas Hydrates of Outer Continental Margins

Keith A. Kvenvolden

Gas hydrates are crystalline substances in which a rigid framework of water molecules traps molecules of gas, mainly methane. Gas-hydrate deposits are common in continental margin sediment in all major oceans at water depths greater than about 300 m. Thirty-three localities with evidence for gas-hydrate occurrence have been described worldwide. The presence of these gas hydrates has been inferred mainly from anomalous lacoustic reflectors seen on marine seismic records. Naturally occurring marine gas hydrates have been sampled and analyzed at about tensites in several regions including continental slope and rise sediment of the eastern Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Except for some Gulf of Mexico gas hydrate occurrences, the analyzed gas hydrates are composed almos exclusively of microbial methane. Evidence for the microbial origin of methane in gas hydrates includes (1) the inverse relation between methane occurrence and sulfate concentration in the sediment, (2) the subparallel depth trends in carbon isotopic compositions of methane and bicarbonate in the interstitial water, and (3) the general range of 13C depletion (^dgrPDB13C = -90 to -60 ^pmil) in the methane. Analyses of gas hydrates from the Peruvian outer continental margin in particular illustrate this evidence for microbially generated methane. The total amount of methane in gas hydrates of continental margins is not known, but estimates of about 1016 m3 seem reasonable. Although this amount of methane is large, it is not yet clear hether methane hydrates of outer continental margins will ever be a significant energy resource; however, these gas hydrates will probably constitute a drilling hazard when outer continental margins are explored in the future.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91003©1990 AAPG Annual Convention, San Francisco, California, June 3-6, 1990