DOE/NETL Methane Hydrate Projects
Gas Hydrate Dynamics on the Alaskan Beaufort Continental Slope: Modeling and Field Characterization Last Reviewed 12/11/2013


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.

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

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.

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.

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 (December 2013)
The USGS and SMU have begun operational planning for the 2014 Beaufort expedition onboard the R/V Norseman II. In order to minimize the likelihood of encountering heavy sea ice conditions in the Beaufort Sea, a cruise date of the 2nd through 4th weeks of September 2014 has been requested of the ship operator.

Additionally, the USGS continues to process multi-component seismic data collected during the summer of 2012 from the Beaufort Sea (see USGS DE-FE0002911 for more information). Advanced analytical techniques using new approaches pioneered for hydrates studies at the USGS Woods Hole office are being used. As these data become available, additional methane hydrate modeling will be conducted in order to help constrain hydrate accumulation and evolution over time and space in the Beaufort Sea, which will aid in targeting coring operations during the expedition in 2014.

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 ( or 304-285-1334)
Southern Methodist University – Dr. Matthew Hornbach ( or 214-768-2389)
Oregon State University – Prof. Frederick Colwell ( or 541-737-5220)
USGS – Dr. Carolyn Ruppel ( or 508-457-2339)
USGS – Dr. John Pohlman ( or 508-457-2213)

Additional Information

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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