May 12, 2004
Gas hydrates: a gift wrapped in problems
Next—and, more seriously— there are two facts that can combine to cause major disasters. Fact-Set-One: there is 3000 times more methane down there than there is now in the atmosphere; methane is 10 times worse than carbon dioxide as a climate warmer. Fact-Set-Two: methane hydrate sediments are close to coastlines; they can be in layers that are 13 kilometres deep; mining for them can set off ‘landslides’ down there.
The real hazard is when we combine the two sets. Mindless mining can cause landslides, release bursts of methane into the atmosphere and accelerate global warming, with consequences that are well known. All this is because, gas hydrates where they are, are stable; but once dislodged can be—due to their great expansion ratio—very volatile.
What we are looking at is a potential that we can’t jump at and grab, but must winkle out with great care.
For those with greater interest in this subject that will be heard more frequently in India in the coming years, here are links to pursue the subject further. For an easy introduction to the subject go to this US Geological Survey page. A slightly more technical page is here. A racy chat on the subject can be found here. Finally, India’s National Institute of Oceanography page on the subject.