Future Supply and Emerging Resources
The National Methane Hydrates R&D Program - Students
Laura Brothers, a PhD candidate at the University of Maine, was recently named as the 2010 recipient of a Methane Hydrate Research Fellowship.
Earth Sciences (Ph. D. expected 2010), University of Maine
Marine Policy and Oceanography (M.S. 2006), University of Maine
Sociology/Geology, (B.S. 2001), Bryn Mawr College
Following completion of her PhD in August 2010, Laura will be advised by Carolyn Ruppel and stationed at the US Geological Survey Woods Hole Sciences Center. There she will research permafrost degradation and potential hydrate dissociation in nearshore Beaufort Sea. Through the reprocessing and integration of existing industry geophysical datasets she aspires to delineate the seaward extent and, potentially, the thickness of subsea permafrost in the nearshore Beaufort Sea and thereby identify the likely location of the shallow offshore hydrate degassing front.
Laura graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2001 with a degree in Sociology and a minor in Geology. She completed her bachelors in Geology a year later at West Virginia University. She combined her societal and scientific interest in a dual masters program for Marine Policy and Oceanography at the University of Maine. Her integrated thesis focused on sediment transport in a heavily engineered embayment. After completing her Masters’ program in 2006 she continued on for a PhD in Earth Sciences and studied nearshore shallow gas and seep feature dynamics in previously glaciated embayments.
Monica B. Heintz
Solving geological engineering problems and studying microbial communities that oxidize methane in the ocean would seem to most people to be totally different scientific endeavors. But when Monica Heintz’s curiosity about the interface between the biological and mineral worlds steered her from the Colorado Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, she found that many of the skills she had gained as an undergraduate at the Colorado School of Mines could be applied in modeling how naturally elevated methane concentrations in the ocean change due to currents, dilution, and most importantly, consumption by microbes that rely on methane as a carbon and energy source. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with about 20 times the radiative capacity of carbon dioxide. The oxidation of methane in the water column is one of the least characterized processes of the global carbon cycle, and yet a significant portion of methane released from marine sediments is consumed before it can reach the atmosphere.
Earth Science (Ph.D. in progress), University of California-Santa Barbara
Geological Engineering (B.S. 2005), Colorado School of Mines
Monica was recently selected as the first recipient of a new Methane Hydrate Research Fellowship awarded by the U. S. Department of Energy in a program directed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). In her research, Ms. Heintz will concentrate on identifying the microorganisms responsible for methane oxidation in the marine water column and will investigate the ways in which this “biological filter” controls how much of the methane released from the seafloor, either from hydrates or seeps, eventually reaches the atmosphere.
Monica’s interest in science started early. “I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a scientist,” she says. “In my childhood years, I remember working on science fair-type projects in the garage with grandfather—an electrical engineer. When I went to CSM I was determined to be a physicist, until an introductory earth science course drew me into the geological engineering program. Then, when I made the decision to go on to graduate school I realized I could focus on practically any problem I wanted.” Ms. Heintz chose to begin by studying microbial communities associated with marine hydrothermal systems under the leadership of U.C. Santa Barbara professors Rachel Haymon and Dave Valentine, soon after a visit to the campus. “The people there were terrific, I loved southern California, and two months after starting graduate school I was on a ship, at the Galapagos Spreading Center, collecting samples from plumes of hydrothermal fluid emanating from the mid-ocean ridge with the goal of identifying members of the microbial community that harvest energy from the chemicals in hydrothermal fluids.” She is currently working toward a PhD in Earth Science as part of Dr. Valentine’s biogeochemistry group.
Monica’s research under the Methane Hydrate Research Fellowship will ramp up this summer when she participates in a July research cruise in the Santa Barbara and Santa Monica Basins, offshore southern California. The goal of the cruise is to balance the methane budget for the major seep fields in the area. Monica will be collecting samples to screen for methanotropic microbes and will be using radioactively-tagged methane to determine how quickly they oxidize methane in the water column. She will apply results from the work on this cruise to investigate how much of the 40 metric tons per day of methane seeping from the seafloor at the shallower Coal Oil Point seep just off the Santa Barbara coast might be oxidized by bacteria before it escapes into the atmosphere. In this effort, she will be working with Dr. Susan Mau, a post-doctoral researcher in Dr. Valentine’s group.
Dr. Lapham has been selected as the third recipient of a Methane Hydrate Graduate Fellowship! Dr. Lapham will investigate the factors that control hydrate stability in order to better understand why observed dissolution rates in the field are often much slower than theoretical predictions. Dr. Lapham’s work will focus on the influence of in situ methane concentrations in pore fluids adjacent to marine gas hydrates and the influence of kinetic barriers such as entrained oils or microbial coatings on the surface of the hydrate cage. To aid her in her research, Dr. Lapham intends to develop two novel fluid seafloor sampling devices that will allow the measurement of methane concentrations and d13C values adjacent to and at discreet distances away from shallow buried marine gas hydrates. This effort will compare both laboratory and field results with theoretical predictive model results to address and improve our knowledge of gas hydrate stability and dissolution. As a Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Dr. Lapham was a member of the Gulf of Mexico hydrate research consortium managed by the Center for Marine Resources and Environmental Technology (CMRET) at the University of Mississippi. She and her advisor, Dr. Jeff Chanton, developed a Pore- Fluid Array (PFA) which uses OsmoSampler technology to collect and store pore-fluids at different depths in the sediments over time.
Post-doc, Florida State University
Marine Sciences (Ph. D. 2007), University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chemistry, (B.S. 1997), Florida State University
Laura Lapham arrived at Florida State University expecting to study math.
“I wanted little to do with science,” she recounts. An inspirational first year
chemistry professor (coupled with the sudden prospect of life as a statistician)
diverted her towards the laboratory. For the next 3 years, Laura worked in an
Oceanography lab under the direction of Dr. Jeff Chanton. During this time, she
conducted research on carbon-dioxide/methane cycling in a Canadian wetland
and a local landfill. After graduation and a year working as an organic chemist
(“I learned that spending all day under a hood synthesizing novel compounds
just wasn’t for me”) she decided to follow up on her earlier interest in carbon
cycling. This brought her to the University of North Carolina, where she worked with her co-advisors, Dr. Chris Martens and Dr. Chanton, to
develop a better understanding of biogeochemical and physical controls on
methane and sulfate in cold seep environments.
As part of the Gulf of Mexico hydrate research consortium managed by the
Center for Marine Resources and Environmental Technology (CMRET) at
the University of Mississippi, Dr. Chanton and Laura have developed a Pore-
Fluid Array (PFA) which uses OsmoSampler technology to collect and store
pore-fluids at different depths in the sediments over time. The instrument has
a detachable OsmoSampler package (developed at Monterey Bay Aquarium
Research Institute) that can be collected and replaced by a remotely operated
vehicle. The idea behind the PFA is to monitor pore-fluid salt and methane
concentrations in order to observe hydrate formation or decomposition events,
since hydrates exclude salts during formation. The first PFA was placed at
Mississippi Canyon Lease Block 118 in May 2005 and is scheduled to be
collected in September 2006, after an extended stay on the seafloor (courtesy of
hurricanes Katrina and Rita).
Laura considers herself fortunate to have participated in nine research cruises
related to methane hydrate research over the past six years: five different visits
to sites in the Gulf of Mexico, three trips to offshore Vancouver Island (Barkley Canyon, Cascadia Margin), and one to the Blake Ridge diapir offshore South
Carolina. “The main goal of the Gulf of Mexico hydrate consortium is to develop
and maintain a long-term hydrate monitoring station on the seafloor,” says Laura.
“My contribution to the project has been to help develop and deploy the PFA and
collect gravity cores to determine the spatial variability of microbial processes
such as sulfate reduction, anaerobic methane oxidation and methanogenesis;
processes that control hydrocarbon distributions in surface sediments.”
Laura received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina in 2007, and has gone on to a post-doctoral position at Florida State University. She also has an interest in
educational outreach programs that help provide materials and resources to help
middle school and high school science teachers strengthen their curricula (such
as the Teacher Link Program in Raleigh, NC).
Geophysics (Ph.D. expected 2009), Columbia University
Geophysics (M.S. 2006), Columbia University
Geology and Geophysics (B.S. 2004), University of Tulsa
As a sophomore geology student at the University of Tulsa, Ann Cook applied
for a summer internship with the Schlumberger-Doll Research Center in ,
Connecticut, to be supervised by Dr. Dave Goldberg, a professor at Columbia’s
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. During that summer she was introduced
to hydrates. “I was fortunate as an undergrad, actually being able to synthesize
tetrahydrofuran hydrate (THF) in the lab at LDEO, bring it to the Schlumberger
lab and utilize the nuclear magnetic resonance equipment there to make
measurements,” says Ann. Back at Tulsa she continued to work with THF
hydrates as part of her senior thesis. “Researchers were beginning to think that
THF was not the best analog for methane hydrate … I wanted to try ethylene
oxide but the laboratory in Bartlesville I hoped to use thought it was too risky.”
That introduction was enough to send her to LDEO as a full-time graduate
student with Dr. Goldberg and the Borehole Research Group, where she
capitalized on her past experience working as a log analyst for Oklahoma
independent, Kaiser-Francis Oil Company. Her master’s degree research utilized
Ocean Drilling Program (ODP)data, acquisition of which was co-funded by
DOE. Using acoustic log data collected during ODP Legs 204 (at Cascadia
margin) and 164 (at Blake Ridge); the DOE-Chevron Joint Industry Project
(JIP) gas hydrate drilling project in the Gulf of Mexico; and Mallik permafrost
wells, Cook examined the relationship between gas hydrate saturation and the
cohesive strength of marine sediments.
When we talked to Ann she had just returned from a 2-month hydrate cruise
in the Indian Ocean (the first half of a four-month project mentioned elsewhere
in this issue) where she served as a logging scientist during the acquisition of
one wireline log and twelve logging-while-drilling (LWD) logs. “It was my
first cruise and it was very exciting,” Cook recounts. “I now have a whole new
perspective on the logs that I have been working with, having learned so much
about how they are acquired and how logging conditions can impact the quality
of the data.”
Ann will be working toward her Ph.D. for another three years, and at the
moment is not sure where she will end up after that. She adds that, “While I
enjoyed working as a teaching assistant here at Columbia last year, there is a real
attraction to working in industry. I’m just enjoying the chance to do research
while I can.”
Tae Sup Yun
Geotechnical Engineering (Ph. D. 2005), Georgia Institute of
Geotechnical Engineering (M.S. 2003), Georgia Institute of
Geology, (B.S. 1997), Yonsei University, South Korea
Tae Sup Yun, currently a post-doctoral fellow at Georgia Institute of Technology,
has been investigating methane hydrates since he began work there as a
graduate research assistant four years ago under the supervision of Drs. Carlos
Santamarina and Carolyn Ruppel. His first assignment was measurement of
the mechanical and electrical properties of gas hydrate bearing sediments
collected in the Gulf of Mexico by the R/V Seward Johnson during an National
Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored cruise in Fall 2002. Then, as an MS and
PhD candidate he helped design, construct and field test an instrumented highpressure
chamber for measuring compressional and shear wave velocity, strength
and electrical resistance of hydrate-bearing cores recovered under pressures
up to 20 Mpa. The equipment was one of the important new tools employed
during the 5-week cruise carried out in the Gulf of Mexico by the DOE-funded,
ChevronTexaco-led Joint Industry Project (JIP) in 2005.
Dr. Yun received his degree last year and while continuing to teach at Georgia
Tech, is now deciding among opportunities to work in industry or continue his
academic research. His primary interest is in understanding the mechanical
behavior of soils at a fundamental level. “I believe that it will be soil mechanics,
more so than geochemistry or geophysics, which will determine in the end how
easily we will be able to produce methane from subsurface hydrate deposits.
Knowing how hydrate-soil mixtures will behave under dynamic conditions is the
Yun’s thesis work is perhaps best represented in a paper submitted to the Journal
of Geophysical Research: B-Solid Earth, entitled “Mechanical properties
of sand, silt, and clay containing synthetic hydrate,” by Yun, Ruppel and
Santamarina. A second paper submitted to Marine Geology, titled “Instrumented
pressure testing chamber for characterizing sediment cores recovered at in situ
hydrostatic pressure,” by Yun, Narsilio, Santamarina and Ruppel, provides a
good description of the tool developed for use by the JIP.
Physical Chemistry (post-doc 2000), ORNL
Physical Chemistry (Ph. D. 1999), University of Toledo
Chemistry, (B.S. 1990), Butler University
In the spring of 2005 Camille Jones left her position as a Research Chemist
at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to become an
Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Hamilton College, a liberal arts college in
Clinton, NY. “Hamilton has provided me with the opportunity and resources
to continue my research, while also working with undergraduate chemistry
students,” says Camille. “Undergraduate research is a priority at Hamilton and
I am enjoying that aspect immensely.” Several of these students are currently
helping Dr. Jones in a DOE-funded effort to use neutron diffraction to study the
storage of hydrogen in clathrate hydrates.
Camille began her post-doctoral research career at Oak Ridge National
Laboratory, where she worked in the Metals and Ceramics Division. It was
there that she first found out about clathrate hydrates and began using neutron
diffraction to study their crystal structures. She expanded her work after moving
to NIST, using quasi-elastic neutron scattering to look at a variety of cyclic
ether guest molecules in hydrates. “We are learning some interesting things
about how these molecules rotate within their cages, depending on their size
and the temperature,” says Dr. Jones. Currently, Jones and her collaborators are
employing computational methods to help interpret the results of the neutron
scattering experiments, and she has a new collaboration with a Hamilton
undergraduate researcher and his mentor, a colleague in the Chemistry
Department, to synthesize custom-designed organic molecules that will simplify
interpretation of quasi-elastic data.
Her current work, funded by the DOE’s Office of Science and part of a
collaboration with Tulane University and Los Alamos National Laboratory,
began last fall. Three of her eight undergraduate research students are involved
in designing new pressure cells and methodologies for synthesizing hydrates
for that project. The other five are working on problems related to the synthesis
and fundamental properties of hydrates, like studying the behavior of hydrateforming
liquids in the vicinity of the hydrate formation temperature.
Dr. Jones is not studying methane hydrates at this point. “They’re harder to make
and other very well established groups are studying them. But by looking very
closely at some hydrates that receive less attention, I hope to create a research
program integrated with undergraduate education where students can expand
their scientific knowledge and skills as well as add something to the overall
understanding of hydrate formation and why guest molecules behave the way
they do,” Dr. Jones adds.
At the same time, she is thoroughly enjoying the classroom. “I introduced
two X-ray diffraction experiments and even included some hydrates-related
bench experiments in the physical chemistry course I taught for the first time
last year. I wanted to expand students’ knowledge of materials chemistry and
awareness of energy-related issues,” explained Jones. “These students are smart,
conscientious, and enthusiastic--our best hope for addressing energy-related
issues in the future.”
Earth Sciences (Ph. D. expected 2007), Scripps Institution of
Geology, (B.S. 2001), University of Nevada at Reno
Evan has been selected as the second recipient of a Methane Hydrate Graduate Fellowship! See article in Fall 2007 edition of Fire in the Ice [PDF - pg. 14].
We talked to Evan as he was packing to leave on an upcoming methane hydrate
research cruise to the Indian Ocean. Most grad students take part in perhaps
four such cruises while completing a Masters and Ph.D. in an oceanographyrelated
specialty … this will be Evan’s ninth. “I’m interested in understanding
the dynamics of fluid flow within sediments, particularly as they relate to ocean
chemistry,” says Evan. “I had focused a lot on hydrogeology at UNR, and
when a visiting speaker gave a talk about methane hydrates, it seemed to be a
very interesting topic, so I sought out Dr. Miriam Kastner at Scripps.” Evan’s
seafaring has been the direct result of that decision.
Evan’s work with Kastner has involved long-term continuous chemical and fluid
flux monitoring of two dynamic subsea systems: the Costa Rica subduction zone
and the Bush Hill gas hydrate field in the Gulf of Mexico. Off Costa Rica they
used continuous water samplers within a borehole observatory to record the
chemical and fluid flux. This was the first high-resolution time series data set of
chemistry and fluid flow at a subduction zone.
At Bush Hill, as part of a project funded by DOE, Evan helped to develop and
deploy a new design of flux meter called the MOSQUITO (Multiple Orifice
Sampler and Quantitative Injection Tracer Observer). The device contains
a network of osmotic samplers and a tracer injection feature. The tracer is
injected at a single point beneath the seafloor and fluid chemistry and tracer
concentrations are continuously sampled simultaneously at multiple depths in a
three dimensional array relative to the tracer injection point. The data collected
over 430 days in 2002-03 have been used to help characterize the complex
hydrology around hydrate mounds and their related benthic communities. The
results show that methane from active gas vents adjacent to the mounds act to
keep the methane hydrate deposit stable.
In an associated experiment, Evan is using methane concentration data from
bubble plumes above the active seafloor methane seeps to model the methane
flux from the ocean surface to the atmosphere at four sites in the Gulf of Mexico.
Ultimately he hopes to combine his results with remote sensing imagery of over
400 active seeps, to extrapolate these flux rates to the entire northern Gulf of
Mexico basin. The Gulf of Mexico is one of the few places in the ocean where
methane is not oxidized in the water column. If its contribution of methane to the
atmosphere can be more accurately quantified the impact of oceanic methane on
the atmosphere will come into sharper focus.
Evan is clearly excited about continuing his research beyond the award of his degree.
“I am hoping to do a post-doc where I can apply some of what I have learned to the
study of freshwater lake sediments,” said Evan. A post-doc study on methane fluxes
and gas hydrate formation and distribution in the Indian Ocean is also on his list.
Chemical Engineering (M.S. 2004), University of Pittsburgh
Chemical and Mechanical Engineering, (B.S. 2001), Geneva College
As a chemical engineering undergrad at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA,
Eilis Rosenbaum decided to complete the course work for both a chemical and
a mechanical engineering degree. As a result she began working with Dr. Dave
Shaw, an engineering professor who was helping to design sensors for measuring
thermal properties of methane hydrates at DOE’s National Energy Technology
Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh. This introduction led her to pursue a Masters
degree in chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, where she
continued working with Dr. Gerald Holder and with Bob Warzinski (at NETL)
on the development of a new system for measuring thermal conductivity of
methane hydrates during formation and dissociation. Eilis’s work at NETL was
encouraged through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE)
program, which provides opportunities for students and faculty to contribute to
NETL research efforts.
“Historically, methane hydrate thermal conductivity measurements have not
been carried out on well characterized samples,” says Eilis. “Our objective is
to develop the equipment and procedures that will enable us to obtain physical
and thermal property information on samples of hydrate and sediment where
the composition is well understood.” To do this, the team at NETL has modified
an existing pressure cell by introducing a transient plane source (TPS) sensing
element to determine the thermal diffusivity and thermal conductivity. “Most
of my graduate work was focused on helping to develop the equipment and in
writing the programs to automate the data collection and analysis process,” adds
After successfully defending her thesis in 2003, Eilis was hired by Parsons
Corporation, an NETL contractor, to continue working on the project.
Chemical Engineering (Ph.D. expected 2007),
Colorado School of Mines
Chemical Engineering (B.E. 2000), Punjab University, India
While pursuing his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at the Colorado School of
Mines, Arvind Gupta has also spent considerable time performing experiments
at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California. Arvind is
interested in how hydrates form and dissociate, on both a microscopic and
macroscopic level. On the macroscopic scale, x-ray computed tomography (CT)
is one way to visualize and quantify the physical changes that occur during
hydrate formation and dissociation. DOE-funded researchers at LBNL are
employing CT scanning as a visualization technique (see the Winter 2005 issue
of Fire in the Ice).
“We’ve formed pure samples of methane hydrate and also hydrate-sediment
mixtures,” says Arvind. “With CT scanning we can quantify spatial
heterogeneity in the laboratory prepared hydrate samples, and the locations
where hydrate forms and dissociates with time. There is a lot of variation; even
pure hydrate without any sediment is not as homogeneous as expected.” Arvind
has also been involved with history matching of experimental results using the
TOUGH-Fx/HYDRATE code developed at LBNL by George Moridis, one of his
graduate thesis advisors. “The motivation for much of our research is to provide
better physical property values for the model,” he adds.
At Colorado School of Mines Arvind has been working with his thesis
advisor, Dr. Dendy Sloan, investigating the hydrate dissociation process at a
microscopic scale using spectroscopic tools like Raman spectroscopy, nuclear
magnetic resonance and neutron diffraction. “My research interests also
include measurements of hydrate properties such as thermal conductivity, heat
capacity, heat of dissociation and permeability for hydrate bearing sediments,”
adds Gupta. “I’m currently working on measuring the absolute and relative
permeability of hydrate bearing sediments as a function of hydrate saturation.”
Although Arvind worked for two years as a process engineer in New Delhi
after receiving his undergraduate degree, he now feels his future most likely lies
in research rather than industry. He sums it up, “I enjoy the challenge and the
Petroleum Engineering (M.S. 2006), University of Texas
Geological Engineering (B.S. 2004), University of Arizona
Greg Gandler’s academic experience with methane hydrates was not as extensive
as many of the students highlighted on these pages, but it certainly made a big
difference in determining how he got where he is today, working as a production
engineer with Anadarko in Houston, Texas.
“I got introduced to methane hydrates while working as a research assistant with
Dr. Bob Casavant at Arizona. We were tasked with identifying hydrates from
log signatures and doing stratigraphic correlations in the Milne Point Unit on the
Alaskan North Slope,” says Greg. His work, a preliminary spatial study of fault
locations, morphology and inferred hydrate occurrence across the Milne Point
Unit, resulted in a paper presented at the 2004 Hedberg Conference. Gandler’s
study represented just one example of about 12 student projects that were
undertaken at the University of Arizona as a result the industry-governmentuniversity
collaboration associated with gas hydrate research.
As a result of his exposure to the project, Greg chose to pursue a graduate degree
in petroleum engineering at the University of Texas, where he received his
M.S. in May 2006, after working with Dr. Steven Bryant on problems related
to waterflood sweep efficiency. Just a few months into his current position
with Anadarko, Greg is now working on carbon dioxide flooding projects in
Wyoming. Anadarko has enhanced oil recovery projects underway at three oil
fields in central Wyoming, and is investigating the potential for similar projects
in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.
According to Greg, “The geological engineering students at the University of
Arizona generally end up working in hard rock mining, construction, or oil
and gas. Working on the BP-DOE methane hydrates project definitely sparked
my interest in a career in oil and gas production, and is the primary reason I am
working where I am.”
Geophysics (Research Associate), University of Texas
Geophysics (post-doc 2004-2006), University of Texas
Geophysics (Ph.D. 2004), University of Wyoming
Physics (A.B. 1998), Hamilton College
Matt Hornbach’s introduction to methane hydrates began in Wyoming, about as
far away from marine hydrate deposits as one can get. There, in conjunction with
professors Steve Holbrook and Demian Saffer, under a research project funded
by the National Science Foundation and the DOE, Matt studied seismic data that
had been collected during the Fall of 2000 at Blake Ridge in the Atlantic Ocean,
300 miles off the coast of North Carolina. The seismic survey of the methane
hydrate system on Blake Ridge included one of the first 3D seismic datasets
acquired in a methane hydrate province. This detailed view of the subsurface led
to some important new insights into methane release, the dynamics of the free
gas system, and the direct detection of methane hydrate.
Analysis of the data led to a number of conclusions, “One of which was that
critically pressurized volumes of methane gas exist below methane hydrate
deposits, resulting in a potentially unstable ocean floor that is highly sensitive to
changing conditions,” says Hornbach. “A change in temperature or pressure can
cause hydrate to convert into methane gas, causing faulting that allows the gas to
escape.” This mechanism for the sustained ocean-wide release of methane was
the topic of an article in Nature authored by Matt and his professors in 2004.
The study also revealed that while a number of seismic indicators can be used to
identify hydrates, remote quantification of hydrate concentrations is best performed
through detailed velocity analysis and comparison to rock physics models. This
approach forms the basis of ongoing work funded by DOE at the University of
Texas, where Matt is now a research associate.
“One of the surprises that came out of the submersible dives at Blake Ridge was
the recognition of just how dynamic the methane flux situation is there, at a spot
that was previously thought to be relatively static,” adds Matt. “My research
focuses on using high-resolution seismic data to link shallow geological structure
and fluid dynamics in the marine environment. I hope it will lead me to a better
understanding of methane mobilization, its impact on climate and its role in
sustaining chemosynthetic biological seafloor communities.”
Chemical Engineering (Ph.D. expected 2006),
Mississippi State University
Polymer Science and Engineering (M.S. 2000),
University of Southern Mississippi
Chemistry, (B.S. 1997), University of Arkansas
Jennifer Dearman has been working with Dr. Rudy Rogers at Mississippi State
University on DOE-funded methane hydrate research. Their focus has been on
understanding how hydrate formation rates and induction times vary with depth
within subsea sediments. In particular, they are investigating the influence that
clay type and the presence of microbially-produced surfactants might have on
Using sediment samples from a core recovered by the Marion Dufresne in 631 m
of water in the Gulf of Mexico’s Mississippi Canyon, the research team measured
the rates at which hydrate formed in these sediments in a 450 psi pressurized test cell.
“We observed that hydrate formation is most rapid at about 15-18 m of depth,”
says Jennifer. “Also, hydrate induction time reaches a minimum at about 12 m.”
Corollary experiments have shown that biosurfactants catalyze hydrate
formation, even at very low concentrations, increasing hydrate formation rate
and decreasing induction time. Analysis of the silt, sand, and clay percentages in
the core samples, as well as the percentages of various clay minerals present, are
being carried out. “Ultimately, we hope to relate bioagents and bio-agent-mineral
interactions with hydrate formation trends,” says Dearman.
Chemical Oceanography (Ph.D. expected 2006),
The College of William and Mary
Biological Oceanography (M.S. 1995), Texas A&M University
Zoology, (B.S. 1992), Louisiana Tech
While most of the students highlighted in this issue were in school when they
were first introduced to gas hydrate science, John Pohlman was already a hydrate
researcher when he decided to integrate his research efforts with work towards
an advanced degree.
John has worked as a contractor for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory since
1996. “I had been working for NRL for three years on various coastal ecological
studies when the opportunity to work on gas hydrates came up in 2000,”
recounts John. “One of my first projects was developing a laboratory to perform
radiocarbon analysis on gas, sediments and pore fluids to trace the fate of
methane carbon in gas hydrate systems.”
Subsequently, John had the opportunity to participate in a number of research
cruises, including the DOE-supported Marion Dufresne voyage to collect
cores in the Gulf of Mexico in 2002, and the IODP leg 311 cruise of the Joides
Resolution to the Northern Cascadia Margin in 2005, where he was one of
two organic chemists responsible for on-board chemical analysis of pore fluids
collected from cores.
John saw an opportunity to combine his “day job” with an effort to further his
education, and enrolled at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS),
which is associated with The College of William and Mary. Data collected at
biogenic and thermogenic gas hydrate sites off Vancouver Island during the
Northern Cascadia Margin cruise formed the basis of John’s research for his
Ph.D. He is investigating the methane biogeochemistry and sulfate reducing
bacteria chemotaxonomy at these sites.
“Performing geochemical analysis on pore fluids and sediments from relatively
shallow cores, and trying to understand the dynamics of fluid flux at those
depths, can help us understand the deeper hydrate systems,” adds Pohlman. “We
can also infer some things about sediment deposition and stability, an important
issue in the Gulf of Mexico.”
We talked to John by phone as he was sitting on the dock in Wellington, New
Zealand, preparing to embark on a two-week DOE-supported cruise aboard the
R/V Tangaroa to the Hikurangi Margin off the coast of New Zealand’s North
Island. “Previous seismic work by scientists at the New Zealand Institute of
Geological and Nuclear Sciences has identified a number of bottom simulating
reflectors (BSR’s). We’re going to sample the sediments at these sites and look
for evidence of active methane flux,” says Pohlman. “We’ll also be looking at
carbon isotope ratios to determine thermogenic or biogenic origin.”
After defending his thesis this fall, John hopes to continue to apply geochemistry
to the study of gas hydrates, either with NRL or elsewhere.
Petroleum Engineering (B.S. 2005), University of Alaska, Fairbanks
The path that brought Phil Tsunemori to a University of Alaska laboratory
performing experiments to validate published methane hydrate dissociation
data was not your typical academic ladder. Phil, an instrument technician at
a Nebraska sugar beet processing plant, came to Alaska looking for a good
oil refinery job. He enrolled at UAF to take some basic math prerequisites,
discovered petroleum engineering, and never looked back. Today, four years
later, he is a practicing petroleum engineer with ConocoPhillips in Anchorage,
thoroughly enjoying his new career.
“As an undergrad, I was assisting the graduate students doing the lab work.
We were performing methane hydrate dissociation experiments based on data
from North Slope cores, checking to see if the published dissociation curves
were representative. We were able to find out that some of the data were not,
and that the actual hydrate stability zone was not where one might expect it to
be.” Tsunemori’s paper based on his summer work won the SPE’s Student Paper
Contest at the Western Regional Meeting in 2004, competing against both B.S.
and M.S. students from West Coast universities.
Although he is not currently working on methane hydrates, Tsunemori believes
that his research experience helped him get an internship with his current
employer the following summer, a post that led to his new job. “I also have
found that I have a better feel for the reservoir engineering aspects of my job—
particularly the geology—having worked with cores in the laboratory,” adds Phil.
He was also able to contribute to the research effort in his own way, drawing
on his unique background to automate the data gathering instrumentation at the
Phil’s path may take him back through that laboratory; he has not discounted the
possibility of a part-time effort toward an advanced degree at some point in the
Marine Geology & Geophysics (Ph.D. 2006), MIT/WHOI
Joint Program in Oceanography
Geosciences, (A.B. magna cum laude 1999), Princeton University
As a post-doctoral researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mea
Cook is studying sediment cores from the Bering Sea, using chemical analysis
of foraminifer shells to better understand Pacific Ocean paleoceanography
and the history of climate change. In a core from the southeast Bering Sea,
she was surprised to find the ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12 in the fossils to
be anomalously low, apparently due to authigenic precipitation of carbonate
minerals. This made the cores unsuitable for her original purpose, but the
question had been raised: could these minerals be the result of methane hydrate
dissociation brought on by some climate-altering event? “We know that
hydrate dissociation can lead to the formation of carbonate minerals like highmagnesium
calcite, aragonite and dolomite … this is seen around some cold
seeps,” says Mea, “And the carbon-13 to carbon-12 ratio in methane is very low,
so this is one possible explanation,” Cook adds.
“We proposed a project to compare the timing of the carbon isotopic anomalies
in the cores with known millennial-scale, warm climate events that occurred
during the last glacial period, to see if there is a correlation,” adds Cook. “Then,
we will look for molecular biomarkers of methane oxidation in the sediment
where the anomalies occur. If they are present, they show that the isotopic
anomalies are indeed associated with the presence of methane.” If the correlation
and the biomarkers are found, this is strong evidence of methane hydrate
outgassing as a positive feedback in climate change. This would support the
hypothesis that a change in ocean currents triggers the dissociation of hydrates
close to the stability zone, and that the released methane makes its way to the
atmosphere, adding to climate changes underway. Mea and her colleagues hope
to complete their data gathering for this DOE-funded project, both the isotopic
stratigraphy and the biomarker analysis, by the end of the 2006.
When not tracking down the role of methane hydrates in climate change, Mea
plays the cello. She has been playing since she was eight years old, and received
a Certificate in Violoncello and Viola da Gamba Performance, from Princeton
along with her geosciences degree.
Petroleum Engineering, (PH.D. in progress), Texas A&M University
Petroleum Engineering (M.S. 2004), University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Chemical Engineering, (B.S. 2002), UICT, Mumbai, India
Namit Jaiswal received his chemical engineering degree in 2002 and decided
that the U.S. was a good place to apply that degree toward the study of future
sources of oil and gas, his primary interest. When we talked to Namit he was
rushing between laboratories, a pretty good characterization of how he has
spent the past four years. Currently a Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University
working with Dr. Daulat Mamora, Namit is investigating the effect of adding
hydrocarbon solvents to steam injected in heavy oil recovery projects. He has
also landed an internship with Shell, working on the team that is developing the
technology to economically produce oil from oil shale. “I found that my work
on methane hydrates gave me a good fundamental understanding of thermal
processes … something that I have been able to apply in both heavy oil and shale
oil research,” remarks Jaiswal.
While working on his M.S. at the University of Alaska (Fairbanks), Namit built a
unique, state-of-the-art experimental set up for studying the relative permeability
of gas hydrate-water systems as part of the BP/DOE-funded assessment of North
Slope methane hydrates. This equipment was the first of its kind, giving Namit
an invaluable perspective on the joys (and disappointments) of original research.
The set-up is being used for formation damage, production profile and phase
behavior studies for gas hydrate saturated porous media.
Namit feels fortunate in having had the opportunity to study three different
examples of unconventional hydrocarbon resources, and looks forward to
applying what he has learned in the industry.
Material Science and Engineering (Ph.D. in progress), State
University of New York at Stony Brook
Petroleum Engineering (M.S. 2005), University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Chemical Engineering, (B.S. 2002), Mumbai University, India
“I was looking for something different, not the same engineering courses with
different titles,” says Prasad Kerkar. That was what brought him from balmy
Bombay, India to the University of Alaska’s Fairbanks laboratory. His work,
part of DOE’s collaborative project with BP Exploration (Alaska) and others,
employed an experimental set up to quantify the potential for near-wellbore
damage from drilling fluids designed for safe hydrate drilling.
After completing requirements for his degree at UAF, Prasad moved on to begin
work on his Ph.D. in Material Science at the State University of New York at
Stony Brook. Currently, he is working with Dr. Devinder Mahajan at Brookhaven
National Laboratory on understanding how hydrates grow within sediments,
using x-ray microtomography. “Most of the models for methane hydrate
distribution within sediments treat it as being homogenously disseminated as
pore filling material, but we see plenty of core evidence of hydrates as massive
layers, nodules and fracture fillings. We are trying to understand the geometry of
hydrate formation at the grain-size scale, hoping to gain a better understanding of
why and how hydrates behave the ways they do.”
Prasad enjoys the teaching and research aspects of his new position as a Ph.D.
Fellow at SUNY Stony Brook, but while he had no second thoughts about pursuing
his Ph.D., he plans on working in the energy industry after he catches it.
Petroleum Engineering (Ph. D. expected 2007), Texas A&M University
Chemical Engineering, (M.S. 2004), University of Mississippi
Chemical Engineering (B.E. 2001), Panjab University, India
Tarun’s research has two objectives: (1) understanding the relative importance of reservoir parameters in the production of natural gas from gas hydrate deposits and (2) understanding the geomechanical performance of hydrate bearing sediments in offshore environments. He has created extensive data sets on various gas hydrate deposits, both oceanic and arctic permafrost, drawing from the Ocean Drilling Program (for Gulf of Mexico, Blake Ridge, Cascadia Margin, Nankai Trough), Geological Survey of Canada (McKenzie Delta) and U.S. Department of Energy sources. These data sets include information on geological setting, lithology, hydrate saturations, free gas saturations, geothermal gradient, thermal properties, heat flux, physical and index properties of the sediments (e.g., water content, Atterberg limits, grain density, grain size distribution, mineralogy).
Tarun’s ultimate aim is to use these data sets to predict the performance of gas hydrate bearing sediments under different geological conditions. He is particularly interested in understanding the interaction of hydrate and sediment, an important issue for both gas production and geomechanical slope stability in hydrate bearing sediments. Grover is using the reservoir simulators TOUGH+/Hydrate and CMG-STARS to study various production schemes from different types of hydrate deposits. He is also using these simulators to history match production data from Messoyakha Gas Field in Siberia, a field where hydrates are believed to have sourced a portion of the gas production.
At the moment, Tarun is working on developing a standard procedure for producing hydrate-bearing cores in the laboratory that are representative of natural samples, to bring a degree of uniformity to the testing of cores by various researchers. This procedure will be used to create samples for testing the geomechanical properties of hydrate bearing sediments.
Tarun was drawn to the field of gas hydrates because of the challenges it poses from a petroleum engineering perspective. Says Grover, “Many researchers are doing extremely important work in studying the fundamental flow and geomechanical properties of hydrate bearing sediments. I want to combine that information to study the hydrate dissociation process on a field scale. Modeling is a very useful tool for predicting which parameters are important in determining the relative shortcomings or benefits of various production schemes, and for studying the slope stability of hydrate bearing sediments once basic geomechanical properties have been measured in the laboratory.”
After completing his studies, Tarun is hoping to work in the oil and gas industry in a research capacity.
Praveen K. Singh
Petroleum Engineering, (M.S.), University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Chemical Technology, (B.E. 2004), Napur University
Praveen K. Singh is a Masters of Science student at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. His research is focused on hydrate stability modeling and reservoir simulation. His modeling efforts will be used to predict gas hydrate production rates, depletion mechanisms and recovery factors for the Barrow gas fields. Praveen received his Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Technology from Napur University in 2004. As a Petroleum Engineer, Praveen’s interests include the study of methane hydrates and other alternative energy sources to meet growing world demand for energy. He is the recipient of the American Association of Drilling Engineers (AADE) Scholarship (2006-07).
Civil and Environmental Engineering, (Ph.D. in progress), Georgia Institute of Technology
Engineering, (B.S.), Hanyang University, Korea
Jaewon Jang is a PhD student at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research explores methane production from hydrate bearing sediments, with emphasis on pore-scale phenomena. The study is based on advanced experimental techniques and extensive instrumentation combined with numerical simulations. He has a BS degree from Hanyang University in Korea. Jaewon worked in the construction industry (highways and tunnels) for 3 years and served in the Korean Army for 2 years before joining Georgia Tech.
Environmental Engineering, (Ph.D.), Georgia Institute of Technology
Chemical Engineering, (M.Sc.), University Simón Bolívar, Caracas, Venezuela
Chemical Engineering, (B.S), Mayor de San Andrés University, La Paz, Bolivia
Patricia L. Taboada-Serrano is a postdoctoral research associate at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Her research focuses on stability, formation and dissociation of gas hydrates for methane production, water treatment, and carbon sequestration. She is also interested in the utilization of gas hydrates for gas storage and post-combustion carbon capture, and on the relationship between natural hydrates, the carbon cycle and climate change. Patricia’s work involves mostly the formulation of thermodynamic and phenomenological models for the description of hydrate-associated phenomena with the ultimate goal to achieve experimental validation. Patricia holds a Chemical Engineering degree from the Mayor de San Andrés University in La Paz – Bolivia, a M.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from the University Simón Bolívar in Caracas – Venezuela and a Ph.D. degree in Environmental Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is a former Fulbright fellow and a former Molecular Design Institute fellow. Patricia’s no science-related interests include social and community projects.
Mechanical Engineering, (Ph.D. in progress), Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mechanical Engineering, (B.S.), Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Chris MacMinn is pursuing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a mechanical engineer with an interest in applied mathematics, Chris's particular field of interested is fluid mechanics. He is currently pursuing research with Professor Ruben Juanes to achieve an improved understanding of the physical fluid mechanics of multiphase flow through porous media, an essential process in the formation, stability, and breakdown of methane hydrates.
A native of upstate New York, Chris's appreciation for conservation and efficiency have led him to pursue research in various related areas in the past, including noise-reduction technology for the flow of air over wind-turbine blades and polymer additives for reducing turbulent dissipation in the flow of liquids over solid surfaces. He also spent a year at a consulting firm in Washington, DC, working with the Department of Energy on the development of energy efficiency standards for appliances. Chris holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT.
Geology (B. Sc. 1999), Jadavpur University, Calcutta, India
Geophysics (M. Sc. 2001), Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India
Geophysics (Ph. D. expected 2009), Stanford University
Armed with degrees in Geology from Jadavpur University, and Geophysics from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India, Kaushik Bandyopadhyay moved to the United States to pursue his Ph. D. in Geophysics from Stanford University in Stanford, California. While at Stanford, Kaushik attended a lecture by Dr. Amos Nur that introduced the resource potential of methane hydrate.
According to Kaushik, it was a different Stanford professor that helped solidify his interest in methane hydrates, “My research interests lie in rock physics and Dr. Jack Dvorkin showed me an interesting property of methane hydrate-bearing sediments having a high seismic velocity, yet an unexpectedly high attenuation.” Kaushik uses geophysical measurements (seismic or electromagnetic) to infer different rock properties such as lithology, porosity, and pore fluids. “My main research focus is to improve theoretical rock physics models for anisotropic and attenuative rocks through an understanding of their geological origin,” says Kaushik. “A part of my research is applying these models to methane hydrate reservoirs in order to gain a better
understanding of their seismic behavior.”
Currently, Kaushik measures the ultrasonic velocity anisotropy in pure clay minerals. “Elastic properties of clay minerals are important, but largely unknown parameters needed to interpret the seismic signatures from clay bearing rocks,” says Kaushik.
As for the future, Kaushik plans to continue his research to develop a greater understanding of elastic properties of rocks relevant to conventional and unconventional energy resources. For now though, Kaushik says that, “Guidance from my advisor Dr. Gary Mavko and inspiration from my wife, Tanima Dutta, help to keep me motivated in my studies.”
Kaushik is supported under NETL Project DE-FC26-05NT42663. Please see the project summary page for more information regarding this project.
Chemical Engineering (B. Sc. 2002 and M. Sc. 2003), Indian Institute of Technology,
Chemical Engineering (Ph. D. 2008), Rice University
Prior to coming to the United States, Gaurav Bhatnagar knew of methane hydrate research that was being pursued in his native India. But with his background in chemical engineering, Gaurav felt that natural gas hydrate research was a very different field of study requiring a very different set of skills. After obtaining his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Chemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, Gaurav moved to Houston, Texas to pursue his Ph.D. at Rice University, where he found that his chemical engineering training had better prepared him for gas hydrate research than he thought.
It was through his work with Ph.D. advisor Dr. George Hirasaki that Gaurav was first encouraged to pursue gas hydrate research. “Dr. Hirasaki helped me realize how conventional chemical engineering knowledge could be applied to study natural gas hydrate systems,” says Gaurav. “It was Dr. Hirasaki’s enthusiasm to explore new fields of study that motivated me to apply my strengths in modeling and simulation in a very different area, such as hydrates.” While at Rice, Gaurav also worked in close collaboration with Dr. Jerry Dickens and Dr. Brandon Dugan, which “was very helpful in jumpstarting my research and allowed me to learn various aspects of earth science that I never fully appreciated as a chemical engineer,” adds Gaurav.
His work at Rice focused on modeling gas hydrate accumulations over geologic timescales, which helped develop an understanding of different hydrate systems through a unified perspective. “We were trying to identify how much hydrate can form at a given site and what controls this distribution,” notes Gaurav. “To this end, we identified key dimensionless groups and parameters that control gas hydrate saturation at different geologic sites. This helped us to predict the conditions suitable for finding hydrate ‘sweet spots’ that might be feasible to exploit economically,” he adds.
To assist in accomplishing this feat, Gaurav and others developed their own “relatively complex numerical models and codes to study the temporal evolution of dynamic gas hydrate systems. We came up with special scaling schemes that helped condense the data from hundreds of simulations into simple hydrate maps. We also identified new proxies for quantifying gas hydrate saturation and showed how lithology can dominate local gas hydrate distribution,” says Gaurav.
After successfully defending his thesis in February 2008, Gaurav accepted a position with Shell Global Solutions as a gas hydrate researcher focused on flow assurance issues related to hydrates and geohazards associated with drilling through shallow hydrated systems. From his days as a student, Gaurav holds fond memories of winning the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) student paper contests (both regional and international) in 2006, as well as a best student paper award at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) 2006 Fall Meeting for his work on hydrates. “It was especially rewarding to be recognized by both the industrial and the academic community. I was glad I was able to communicate the importance of our work and ideas to very different audiences,” he adds. When he is not working, Gaurav enjoys playing cricket and racquetball, travelling and listening to classical Hindustani music.
Gaurav was supported under NETL Project DE-FC26-06NT42960. Please see the project summary page for more information regarding this project
Biology (B. Sc. 2003) and Microbiology (M. Sc. 2007), Idaho State University
Oceanography (Ph. D. expected 2011), Oregon State University
If Brandon Briggs had followed his original plan, one would be able to find him behind the pharmacist’s counter filling prescriptions. “When I started college at Idaho State University (ISU), I wanted to be a pharmacist, but I quickly realized that it was not the right choice for me,” says Brandon. “I began volunteering in a microbiology lab, where I helped to develop a technique to concentrate DNA from an aquifer.”
Brandon pursued his interest in microbiology which eventually led him to his current work in hydrate research. “After completing my Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from ISU, I stayed on there to complete my Master’s of Science in Microbiology. For my master’s work, I grew a bacterium that reduced iron at a pH of 3,” says Brandon. “It was during a quick presentation by Dr. Frederick Colwell of Oregon State University (OSU) that I first learned of the importance
microbial influences in methane hydrates.”
When he is not chasing his three kids (ages 4 years, 2 years, and 2 months) around or performing science experiments for his oldest on “Science Saturdays,” Brandon can be found working on his Ph. D. with Dr. Colwell, studying the microbial distributions of methane charged sediments.
Using techniques that extract the DNA and RNA from microbes within the sediment, Brandon is able to use DNA measurements like terminal restriction length polymorphism (t-RFLP) to determine the microbial diversity. “I can also do a more detailed analysis and sequence specific
parts of the DNA to determine what type of taxa are found below the seafloor,” notes Brandon. “Usually the microbes that I find have not been previously described, so the only way to identify the microbes is to infer an identity from related DNA sequences.”
Even though getting enough samples to work with is a frustrating limitation, Brandon feels that, “the interdisciplinary nature of hydrates makes the work most rewarding. It will take geologists, chemists, modelers, and microbiologists to unlock the mysteries of hydrates,” says Brandon.
“Knowing that what I am studying will someday help mankind is pretty motivating. My research adds a piece to the puzzle that someone else can use to further us along even more.”
Brandon is supported under NETL Project FLU5A425/100400. Please see the project summary page for more information regarding this project.
Chemical Engineering (B. Sc. 2002) and Petroleum Refining (M. Sc. 2003), Colorado School of Mines
Materials Science (Ph. D. 2007), State University of New York
Michael Eaton received his introduction to methane hydrates as a grad student working in the lab for Dr. Dendy Sloan at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) in Golden, CO. Michael was pursuing his Master’s Degree in Petroleum Refining when fate stepped in, “Going into graduate school, I had very little knowledge of what a hydrate was, or just how interesting they are. I knew I wanted an advanced degree, but had no particular gravitation towards hydrates,” says Michael. “Dendy Sloan, a giant in the hydrates world, offered me a research position in his lab, and the rest is history.”
After completing his Master’s at CSM, Michael enrolled at the State University of New York in Stony Brook, NY to pursue his Ph.D. in materials science, “My advisor at Stony Brook, Dr. Devinder Mahajan, provided the opportunity for me to continue studying hydrates. I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with many world-class researchers and in general some great people along the way in my studies,” says Michael. “Each has shown me a different aspect of what it means to be a scientist.”
His research while at CSM used neutron and X-ray diffraction to study the cage occupancy of both xenon and methane hydrates as a function of temperature and pressure. “Using a technique known as Rietveld analysis, I analyzed the diffraction patterns and numerically extracted such values,” he says. “For my Ph.D., I constructed a reactor to study the formation and decomposition kinetics, morphology, and distribution of hydrates in different types of sediments. In order to extract such data from simple pressure and temperature measurements within the reactor, I wrote a computer program to model the 2-Dimensional transient thermal behavior of the reactor.”
Michael’s experiences in the lab provided some unique opportunities to obtain his data. “One of my favorite memories was being able to perform some of my master’s work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory with guidance from Claudia Rawn and Bryan Chakoumakos,” says Michael. “I learned more in a week about X-ray diffraction from Claudia and Bryan than I did the rest of the time on my master’s -- they were incredibly patient with me.”
After obtaining his Ph.D., Michael accepted a full-time position in the oil and gas industry. When he is not at work, he can be found spending his free time with his wife Erin or out hitting the pavement, “I run quite a bit. It helps me burn off stress, and I also find that I get most of my best thinking done then.”
Michael was supported under NETL Project EST-380-NEDA. Please see the project summary page for more information regarding this project.
Chemical Oceanography and Biology (B. Sc. 2004), Roger Williams University
Chemical Oceanography (M.Sc. expected 2009), Scripps Institution of Oceanography
After completing her undergraduate studies as an ocean-based environmental chemistry and biology student at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI, Alex Hangsterfer first became interested in methane hydrates while working as a visiting researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). It was there that she first saw live, videotaped footage of methane bubbling to the ocean’s surface. “I was working with Chris Reddy, who does a lot of work with oil spills, and at the time and there were these seeps that were generating visible oil slicks on the sea surface,” says Alex. “...once I saw this footage, it sparked my interest in what was really going on with sub-seafloor methane and if there is a way that we can harness its energy potential if we know more about the sub-seafloor hydrological systems associated with methane hydrate deposits.”
Currently finishing her Masters at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Alex’s focus is on the geological settings, geochemical signatures, and microbial communities associated with sub-seafloor gas hydrate-bearing sediments. “My focus while here has been to determine how these different parameters are interconnected and how they influence one another in gas hydrate-bearing sediments and what effect the interaction between the parameters has on gas hydrate occurrence,” she notes. “For example, how does a microbial community structure vary with changes in depth and geochemical horizons; which microbes present in the sediments contribute to the production of the observed geochemical signatures, or how does permeability act to constrain gas hydrate occurrence?”
To help answer these questions, Alex had been working on extracting bacterial and archaeal DNA from sediment samples taken from cores drilled in the Krishna-Godavari Basin in the Indian Ocean. “This can be a challenge due to the extremely low abundance of microbes deep within the sediment column,” she says. Alex has also worked with scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to apply extracted DNA to a phylochip. This DNA microarray can identify a multitude of archaeal and bacterial groups present in the sediment sample. “This analysis allows scientists to track how microbial community structure is changing from sample to sample encountering varying depths, geochemical horizons and geological settings, as in the case of my samples” notes Alex.
Using her innate creativity that is bolstered by encouragement and support from a host of teachers and professors, Alex is motivated by the possibility of making new connections between the biological, chemical and geological systems associated with gas hydrate occurrences. Some favorite memories involve being at sea and experiencing first hand how methane hydrates and seeps are investigated. One of her greatest experiences was “...the opportunity to go to the bottom of the ocean in the DSV Alvin to investigate and recover samples from methane-rich sediments off the coast of Costa Rica, and experience what the deep ocean is truly like for myself,” Alex recalls. “It will never cease to amaze me how life has adapted to thrive in these deep, dark and cold conditions; it is truly an honor to experience it so closely. I hope to take many more trips to continue to explore the bottom of the ocean in my lifetime!”
Alex is supported under NETL Project FLU5A425/100400. Please see the project summary page for more information regarding this project.
Environmental Engineering (B. Sc. 2007, M. Sc. expected 2009), Massachusetts Institute of Technology
As an environmental engineering undergrad at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, Antone Jain found in methane hydrates a perfect way to combine his interest in the ocean with finding quantitative approaches to the problems found in energy and the environment. “Dr. Ruben Juanes joined my department during the summer before my senior year and I found his methane hydrate research to be a perfect match for me,” notes Antone. Equipped with the idea of what he wanted to pursue, Antone completed his degree and chose to stay at MIT to pursue his M. Sc. degree in hydrology.
His current work with Dr. Juanes involves looking at, “Methane fluxes in the Hydrate Stability Zone (HSZ), which are dynamic processes, as evidenced by the observations of co-existence of gas and hydrate, diverse hydrate morphologies and active gas venting on the seafloor,” says Antone. “Our computational modeling explores how the interplay of multiphase flow, geomechanics, and hydrate formation/dissociation dynamics cause distinct methane flux paths in the HSZ. In our coupled grain-scale model, we use the discrete element method to simulate the soil mechanics and a two-phase flow pore network to simulate free gas and brine.”
Through his work with Dr. Juanes, Antone has found that with enough capillary pressure, free gas migration occurs by one of two modes: capillary invasion or by fracture opening and propagation. The results of Dr. Juanes’s and his work imply that in very fine sediments, hydrate will tend to form in veins along a fracture network. In coarser sediments the hydrates will fill the pore space more uniformly. Their next steps involve incorporating hydrate formation into the grain-scale model and validation with laboratory experiments. After validation and using their grain scale knowledge, the plan is to model gas migration at the geologic scale.
Motivated by his interests in science and furthering our understanding of methane hydrate, Jain believes that the work he is involved with today will contribute to the rapidly growing body of knowledge on methane hydrates, and that this body of knowledge will enable accurate assessments of hydrates as a prospective energy resource and component in the global carbon cycle. He sums it up best, “I hope that the application of this knowledge will improve the quality of life for people. There are so many scientists who have worked for many years on understanding geologically occurring methane hydrates, that I view myself as one young contributor in a huge and growing research community. The collective work of the methane hydrates research community can have a great impact on people’s lives.”
Antone is supported under NETL Project DE-FC26-06NT43067. Please see the project summary page for more information regarding this project.
Civil and Environmental Engineering (B. Sc. 1999 and M. Sc. 2004) Korea University
Civil and Environmental Engineering (Ph. D. expected 2009), Georgia Institute of Technology
Since 2006, Jongwon Jung has pursued his Ph. D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. There he is researching methane production from hydrate-bearing sediments with his advisor, Dr. Carlos Santamaria. “He showed me the path to becoming a scientist and provided me an opportunity to study methane hydrates,” says Jongwon.
Prior to working with Dr. Santamaria at Georgia Tech, Jongwon completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Korea University located in Seoul, South Korea. Currently Jongwon’s research is focused on understanding the pore scale interaction between hydrate and sediment particles during formation and dissociation. “I measure temperature, pressure, electrical conductivity, mechanical impedance, bonding and tensile strength,” says Jongwon. “I am also finalizing several studies on hydrate properties at small scales during formation and dissociation. In the mean time, I work on advancing numerical models to process data received from one-dimensional experiments on gas production during hydrate dissociation and formation.”
His research has created very many memorable moments, with his favorite being, “the first time I made hydrate in the lab. After several weeks of keeping the system within the stability field and after many previous frustrations with heat loss from the chamber, the experience was made all the more memorable,” says Jongwon.
For Jongwon, the study of hydrate bearing sediments requires “deep knowledge in many different areas, including chemistry, geology, physics, his research and studies keep him busy, when Jongwon does find time to relax a little he enjoys playing tennis or swimming, but above all, “I love playing with my son.”
Jongwon is supported under NETL Project DE-FC26-06NT42963. Please see the project summary page for more information regarding this project.
Geological Sciences (B. Sc. 2004), University of Rochester
Geophysics (M. Sc. expected 2009), Oregon State University
As an undergrad at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY, Peter Kannberg spent a summer working as an intern at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, WA, imaging clastic dikes using an infrared (IR) camera. As a result of this experience, use of IR imaging for the identification and quantification of gas hydrates in sediment cores was proposed to the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP). Peter, “gave a presentation to Dr. Frank Rack of ODP demonstrating the use of infrared cameras on a simulated hydrate core.” This led to the use of IR imaging onboard the R/V JOIDES Resolution (JR) during ODP’s Leg 204 Expedition on Hydrate Ridge. “The fast paced nature of studying something as ephemeral as hydrates made for a very exciting first experience,” recalls Peter who participated as a shipboard technician.
Peter’s experience during Leg 204 led to his eventual acceptance of a position as a full-time marine technician, a position that provided Peter a front-row seat to a wide-variety of research opportunities that very few are fortunate to experience. “Being a part of ODP and IODP (Integrated Ocean Drilling Program) was an incredible experience. The opportunity to participate in research and work with leading scientists from such a wide range of oceanographic disciplines was invaluable,” says Peter. “Phil Long, my advisor at PNNL, was instrumental in exposing me to hydrate research, and getting my foot in the door at ODP, an opening that has allowed me to sail on three hydrate expeditions aboard the JOIDES Resolution.”
Peter is now at Oregon State University pursuing his Master’s in marine geology and geophysics. His work there with Dr. Anne Tréhu involves using temperature data taken during India’s National Gas Hydrate Program (NGHP) Expedition 01 to map heat flow in hydrate-bearing sediments on the Indian margin. “I was fortunate to sail as the down hole tools technician during the expedition, not knowing at the time that a couple of years later I would be using the temperature data collected by those tools in my master’s research,” says Peter. “I am currently reviewing the temperature data from that expedition. By comparing the geothermal gradient derived from those temperature measurements to the depth of the Bottom Simulating Reflector found in seismic data, we will be able to map the heat flow of the region.”
Where he sees himself in ten years is difficult to say, but Peter notes that, “wherever my career takes me, the research I will conduct will be applicable to societal problems. I see energy research as having increasing importance as nations continue to develop, and gas hydrate could provide abundant energy for those countries putting forth the effort to better understand these deposits.”
Peter is supported under NETL Project DE-NT0005669. Please see the project summary page for more information regarding this project.
Chemistry (B. Sc. 2003), University of California – Santa Barbara
Marine Science (Ph. D. 2008), University of California – Santa Barbara
Frank Kinnaman, who in 2008 received his Ph. D. in Marine Science from the University of California in Santa Barbara, CA (UCSB), first became interested in methane hydrates while working as an undergraduate intern. This interest led to his graduate work studying microbial oxidation of methane and hydrocarbon seep sediments of the Coal Oil Point seep field, which is located directly offshore UCSB. “In my current work, I am focusing on methane concentrations and oxidation in the water column of the Santa Barbara Basin,” says Frank. “I am also advising an undergraduate who is examining propane consumption in seep sediments.”
As part of his Ph. D. studies, Frank studied the patterns and extent of microbial degradation of methane and other gases in sediments around seep vents found not only in shallow and hydrate free-seeps but also in the deep, hydrate-rich environments of the Santa Monica Basin. “Thus far, laboratory incubations of sediment with and without 14C-CH4 as a tracer and studying the natural abundance of 13C have been key methods,” he says. These results “demonstrated approximately ten-fold more methane oxidation at seeps situated at 80 and 800 m depth than seeps at 10 and
20 m depth, with the microbial communities at the shallower sites heavily impacted by benthic disturbances, and starved of methane by the action of intense bubble discharge,” he notes. “Examination of a relatively shallow and intense seep at 20 m depth resulted in the observation of consistent spatial patterns of methane oxidation, which probably results from the interplay between diffusive and advective processes around individual gas vents.” Frank also designed and constructed novel in-situ equilibration samplers (peepers) in the course of his research.
Frank’s methane hydrate research has provided multiple opportunities to see methane seeps up close, He participated in Alvin dives in 2007 and sample collection trips to the shallow portions of the Coal Oil Point seep field using SCUBA. Frank said, “Diving through ascending bubbles of natural gas at these seeps is hauntingly beautiful – visually fascinating – but a little spooky too!”
What helps to keep Frank focused on his research is the belief that even minute advances in this field will have global implications. The most rewarding aspect of studying methane-dominated systems is the, “diverse skill set and broad background gained during the course of study.”
When he is not advising undergrads or researching methane hydrates, Frank Kinnaman likes to garden, a fitting hobby when one considers that all three activities require infinite patience and perseverance, to obtain success.
Frank is supported under NETL Project DE-NT0005667. Please see the project summary page for more information regarding this project.
Geophysics (B. Sc. 2003), University of British Columbia
Earth Sciences (Ph. D. 2008), University of California – San Diego
The path to methane hydrate research was a winding one for Karen Weitemeyer, currently a post-doc researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA. With an interest in both veterinarian science and geophysics, it was the excitement brought to the table by her geophysics professors at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, BC, Canada that convinced her that geophysics was the right field for her. “I was fortunate to be introduced to geophysics by the exceptional professors and teaching assistants at UBC. Their excellent instruction and interest in geophysics convinced me,” says Karen.
Karen was introduced to methane hydrates as an undergraduate through her work on a model of the climatic effects from the release of methane due to hydrate dissociation below the Laurentide and Cascadia ice sheets. “Dr. Bruce Buffett opened a whole new world for me. When I presented my work at the UBC Science open house and at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual meeting, I was surprised at how much interest people had in listening to the hydrate story,” she says.
It was a three-month exchange program with the Australian National University in Canberra, working with Dr. F.E.M. Lilley that introduced her to research in electromagnetic studies. Karen’s specific area of research uses marine electromagnetic methods to remotely image methane hydrates in the field. When compared against the surrounding water saturated sediment, gas hydrates are electrically resistive. “I am able to find resistors with controlled source electromagnetic (CSEM) techniques,” notes Karen. “CSEM is one of two marine-based techniques used for oil and gas exploration. We have adapted the technique to be more sensitive to shallow sediments in which hydrates are found.”
It was her Ph. D. advisor, Dr. Steven Constable, who helped to make it possible to use these electromagnetic techniques to image gas hydrates in a pilot study along Hydrate Ridge. “I am currently processing a recently collected controlled source electromagnetic data set from four sites in the Gulf of Mexico: Alaminos Canyon 818, Walker Ridge 313, Green Canyon 955,
and Mississippi Canyon 118. This project will later involve laboratory studies on the electrical conductivity of hydrates,” notes Karen. “A new field for me, but I am excited to learn about it!”
The interdisciplinary nature of hydrates research interests Karen considerably, “What I find most rewarding is that this field of study integrates physics, chemistry, biology and geology together,” she says. “It allows you to meet many different people and scientists. Studying gas hydrates is also interesting because of the social, economic, and environmental implications that surround gas hydrates. My particular field of interest is breaking new ground, which makes it exciting.”
Karen is supported under NETL Project DE-NT0005668. Please see the project summary page for more information regarding this project.