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Coastal and Marine Geology Program
USGS Woods Hole Science Center

Open-File Report 96-272, Offshore Gas Hydrate Sample Database with an Overview and Preliminary Analysis
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1. Synopsis

A database of offshore gas hydrate samples was constructed from published observations and measurements. More than 90 samples from 15 distinct regions are represented in 13 data categories. This database has permitted preliminary description of gas hydrate (chiefly methane hydrate) tendencies and associations with respect to their geological environment.

Gas hydrates have been recovered from offshore sediment worldwide and from total depths (water depth plus subseabed depth) ranging from 500 m to nearly 6,000 m. Samples have come from subbottom depths ranging from 0 to 400 m. Various physiographic provinces are represented in the data set including second order landforms such as continental margins and deep-sea trenches, and third order forms such as submarine canyons, continental slopes, continental margin ridges and intraslope basins. There is a clear association between fault zones and other manifestations of local, tectonic-related processes, and hydrate-bearing sediment.

Samples of gas hydrate frequently consist of individual grains or particles. These types of hydrates are often further described as inclusions or disseminated in the sediment. Moreover, hydrates occur as a cement, as nodules, or as layers (mostly laminae) or in veins. The preponderance of hydrates that could be characterized as 2- dimensional (planar) were associated with fine sediment, either as intercalated layers or in fractures. Hydrate cements were commonly associated with coarser sediment.

Hydrates have been found in association with grain sizes ranging from clay through gravel. More hydrates are associated with the more abundant finer-grained sediment than with coarser sediment, and many were discovered in the presence of both fine (silt and clay) and coarse sediment.

The thickness of hydrate zones (i. e., sections of hydrate-bearing sediment) varies from a few centimeters to as much as 30 m. In contrast, the thickness of layers of pure hydrate or the dimensions of individual hydrate grains were most often characterized in terms of millimeters or centimeters, although a pure hydrate layer discovered in the Middle America Trench off Guatemala was as much as 3-4-m-thick. The data suggest that grains, or thin veins or laminae of pure gas hydrate may be ubiquitous in many hydrate zones but that typically they may only comprise a minor component of the thicker zones.

In more than 80 percent of the hydrate samples the methane was of biogenic origin. The methane in the remainder was either classified as (or may be at least part) thermogenic. Each site where thermogenic gas was identified is characterized by faults or other manifestions of a dynamic geological environment (e.g., diapirs, mud volcanoes, gas seeps).

Every sample in the database came from within the zone of theoretical methane hydrate stability, as determined on the basis of assumed regional pressure and temperature gradients. Most show that they were situated --- expressed in terms of depth --- well above the phase boundary and about 70% of the samples were located more than 100 m above the assumed regional position of that boundary. The calculated subseabed positions of the phase boundaries and the BSRs (bottom simulating reflector) are essentially identical. This may be taken as general corroboration of the regional phase boundary calculations and the concept of the BSR.

Three provocative aspects of marine gas hydrates have been disclosed by the database:

  1. gas hydrates are frequently situated at much shallower subseabed depths than the assumed contemporary position of the regional phase boundary

  2. hydrates are often found in areas typified by faults or other indicators of a dynamic geological environment

  3. zones of gas hydrate-bearing sediment tend to be tens of centimeters to tens of meters thick but the hydrate within the thicker zones tends to be only a minor constituent.

Whether existing as dispersed particles, cements, or pure layers or veins, gas hydrates tend to be characterized by dimensions of a few centimeters or less.

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Offshore Gas Hydrate Sample Database with an Overview and Preliminary Analysis Home2. Introduction