DOE/NETL Methane Hydrate Projects
Gas Hydrate Dynamics on the Alaskan Beaufort Continental Slope: Modeling and Field Characterization Last Reviewed 5/23/2014

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Goal
The goal of this research is to assess the contemporary state of the upper continental slope in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea to determine if gas hydrates are in equilibrium with present-day climate conditions.

Performers
Southern Methodist University (SMU) – Dallas, TX
Oregon State University (OSU) – Corvallis, OR
US Geological Survey (USGS) – Woods Hole, MA

Background
The gas hydrate stability zone thins or vanishes on upper continental slopes (~250 to 500 m water depth) worldwide due to prevailing pressure-temperature conditions. An estimated 3.5 percent of the global gas hydrate inventory is contained in thin zones in the near-seafloor sediments of these upper continental slopes. This gas hydrate accumulation is the most susceptible on Earth to dissociation as a result of contemporary climate change. The time lag between climate events (e.g., sea level fluctuations, water temperature variations) and the re-equilibration of gas hydrates in the upper continental slope areas in the Arctic also means that some of these zones may still be readjusting to climate change since the end of the last glacial maximum (~20 ka).


Schematic of Earth’s permafrost-associated and deepwater gas hydrate provinces. Focus of this research is on the most climate-susceptible gas hydrates, located within the yellow box.

Impact
This project will—through an assessment of the impact of climate change on susceptible gas hydrates in the U.S. Arctic—yield the first systematic geochemical and microbiological data to constrain subseafloor methane sinks and the spatio-temporal changes in the nature of microbial systems and pore fluids in re-equilibrating gas hydrate zones. The project will be the first ever to directly acquire thermal data from the Beaufort Sea continental slope and represents an integration of physical (oceanography, geophysics), chemical, and biological science. The project will yield constraints on the rate of re-equilibration of gas hydrates located on the upper continental slope in response to external forcings as well as quantitative predictions about the impact of hydrate-derived gas on the strength of slope sediments (geohazards), the flux of gas to the overlying ocean, and the areal extent of dissociation (or, in some cases, hydrate re-formation) processes.

Accomplishments
In March 2014, SMU received 2012 sparker seismic line data from the USGS that are nearly coincident with data from a 1982 industry survey line. The data will be used to develop dynamic numerical models extending from 1982 to the present. Currently, the numerical heat flow model used for 1977 seismic data heat flow modeling is being reconfigured to apply the 1982 and 2012 datasets.

In addition to developing a dynamic numerical model, SMU has integrated advective fluid flow into the model parameters to better understand the role of fluid flow in hydrate stability along the margin. Preliminary results from advection models demonstrate that the anomalously deep BSRs observed in 1977 data along the Beaufort Margin cannot easily be explained via fluid advection from the shelf.

SMU has constrained the upper and lower boundary conditions in their methane hydrate stability model. Upper boundary conditions were based on an analysis of depth-dependent ocean temperatures over various time periods. Lower boundary conditions consider heat flow across the North Slope and Beaufort Sea, and were based on a rigorous statistical analysis of offshore seismic data and historical conductivity and temperature logs. The result is a first-of-its-kind land-sea heat flow contour map of the North Slope of Alaska to the abyssal plane of the Beaufort Sea.

The USGS completed the ship-scoping exercise. Recommendations for use of the R/V Norseman II, which provides the best platform for the coring/heat-flow study, were provided to DOE and accepted.

SMU completed a new forward time, finite difference 3-D heat flow model that utilizes parallel processing on a computational graphics processing unit (cGPU). Integrating the heat flow model with the GPU computing code dramatically increases the computational speed by ~100 times; a 3-D model that initially took ~30 days to run now takes ~7 hours. Multiple 3-D heat flow scenarios at varying resolutions for the U.S. Beaufort have been run using the new code to assess hydrate stability across the region. The results of these model runs have been documented in a draft manuscript submitted for review to the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth.

Current Status (May 2014)
Due to ship constraints (weight capacity and fan-tail length) it was determined that the R/V Norseman II was inadequate to carry out the technical and scientific research objectives of the project. As a result, the project team is investigating alternative research vessels. At this time the planned research expedition has been put on hold until another vessel is secured. Current efforts to secure an appropriate vessel for the planned coring and heat flow cruise include a request to prospective commercial vessels for informational quotes along with a task order containing the required specifications, as well as filing for Ship Time Request(s) in the UNOLS system.

Phase III project tasks have been accelerated forward where feasible and beneficial. This includes efforts by project partner, Oregon State University, to conduct artificial methane seep experiments and molecular analyses to identify methanotroph communities in the methane-stimulated sediments. In order to capitalize on this research and take advantage of DOE Office of Science research capabilities, OSU submitted a Letter of Intent (LOI) to the Joint Genome Institute–Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) Collaborative Science Initiative. The LOI has been approved and a full proposal is being prepared. The proposal, if selected, will allow the project team to perform whole-genome sequencing on environmental isolates obtained from sediments in areas like the Beaufort Slope, assemble the genomes for these organisms, and utilize EMSL resources to guide construction of the individual metabolic models for microorganisms involved in anaerobic methane oxidation.

Project Start: October 1, 2012
Project End: September 30, 2015

Project Cost Information:
Phase 1 - DOE Contribution: $102,337, Performer Contribution: $59,641
Phase 2 - DOE Contribution: $615,082, Performer Contribution: $93,475
Phase 3 - DOE Contribution: $244,298, Performer Contribution: $96,998
Planned Total Funding:
DOE Contribution: $961,717, Performer Contribution: $250,114

Contact Information:
NETL – Robert Vagnetti (Robert.Vagnetti@netl.doe.gov or 304-285-1334)
Southern Methodist University – Dr. Matthew Hornbach (mhornbach@smu.edu or 214-768-2389)
Oregon State University – Prof. Frederick Colwell (rcolwell@coas.oregonstate.edu or 541-737-5220)
USGS – Dr. Carolyn Ruppel (cruppel@usgs.gov or 508-457-2339)
USGS – Dr. John Pohlman (jpohlman@usgs.gov or 508-457-2213)

Additional Information

Research Performance Progress Report [PDF-381KB] April - June, 2014

Research Performance Progress Report [PDF-365KB] January - March, 2014

Research Performance Progress Report [PDF-156KB] October - December, 2013

Research Performance Progress Report [PDF-468KB] July - September, 2013

Research Performance Progress Report [PDF-455KB] April - June, 2013

Research Performance Progress Report [PDF-108KB] January - March, 2013

Research Performance Progress Report [PDF-425KB] October - December, 2012

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