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Characterizing Ocean Acidification and Atmospheric Emission Caused by Methane Released from Gas Hydrate Systems along the US Atlantic Margin
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The primary objective of this project is to determine how methane seepage from the US Atlantic Margin (USAM) upper continental slope near the up-dip limit of gas hydrate stability affects ocean chemistry and sea-to-air greenhouse gas flux in three-dimensions and how this seepage interacts with oceanographic phenomena (e.g., southwardly flowing currents) to create hypothesized hotspots of decreased pH (i.e., acidification potential). A complementary objective is to collect physical data to constrain the location of the methane seeps, the height of plumes above the seafloor, the intensity of seepage, and the estimated volumetric flow rate of methane. Synthesizing the data required to meet these objectives will elucidate the sources and sinks for seep methane and track the flow of methane carbon through the ocean-atmosphere system once released at the seafloor.


The University of Rochester, Rochester NY 
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Woods Hole, MA (through associated Interagency Agreement DE-FE0026195)


Gas hydrate is known to exist widely within shallow marine sediments where ocean depths exceed ~500m. Gas hydrate that may occur along the landward edge of the zone of gas hydrate occurrence is particularly susceptible to destabilization in response to natural environmental changes, including changes in bottom water temperature. The methane emitted during destabilization can have a range of implications, including the potential transmission of methane to atmosphere, the conversion of methane to carbon dioxide in ocean waters, which may then be transmitted to the atmosphere and contribute to acidification of seawater.

In recent years, surveys of the Atlantic Margin have revealed the presence of numerous, previously-undocumented methane seeps in locations that appear to coincide with the landward edge of hydrate stability. This project will conduct targeted acquisition of field data during a 13-day research cruise from the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System’s (UNOLS) R/V Hugh R. Sharp to acquire water column samples and complete thorough surveys of sea-to-air greenhouse gas flux and seafloor gas emissions on the upper continental slope between Cape Hatteras and Wilmington Canyons. These data will then be analyzed to address the key questions related to the environmental impact of methane seeping from the margin near the up-dip limit of gas hydrate stability. The project will also continue to develop and refine laboratory procedures to help determine whether sampled methane was derived from recently dissociated gas hydrate or was perhaps generated by another source.


The resulting data will 1) advance our understanding of the sources, source strengths, and distribution of methane emission from deepwater gas hydrate systems; 2) measure the concentration of methane near the seafloor and in the water column; and 3) assess the vigor of aerobic methane oxidation in ocean waters and the linked change in seawater buffering capacity and acidification along the edge of gas hydrate stability on the U.S. Atlantic Margin. The project will also characterize ocean currents that transport emitted methane and its byproducts southward toward Cape Hatteras, the amount of water column methane carbon derived from gas hydrate dissociation, and the emission intensity of methane derived from gas hydrate to the atmosphere.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
  • Several publications have been produced acknowledging DOE’s support for this project.
  • All seawater samples collected during the research cruise have been analyzed. The data is being interpreted.
  • Completed a research expedition to collect data, seawater, and dissolved gas samples along the Atlantic continental shelf.
  • Evaluation of the suitability of the intended research vessel has been completed.
  • An ultra-high resolution technique has been established which enables the detection of isolated methane "hotspots" of emission from the surface waters to the atmosphere.
  • A technique to extract sufficient methane from surface water such that the natural radiocarbon content of that methane can be determined has been established.
  • The Project Management Plan was submitted and approved.
Current Status

Scientists from the University of Rochester are continuing with the analysis of seawater and dissolved gas samples collected during a research expedition along the Atlantic Margin between Wilmington Canyon and Cape Hatteras. During this quarter, all analyses on the collected seawater samples were completed and data interpretation began. This includes analyses of methane stable isotopes (δ13C-CH4), methane natural radiocarbon (14C-CH4), dissolved inorganic carbon natural radiocarbon (14C-DIC), and dissolved inorganic carbon concentration. The methane natural radiocarbon and dissolved inorganic carbon natural radiocarbon samples were analyzed at the Keck Carbon Cycle-AMS (CCAMS) facility at the University of California, Irvine; the methane stable isotope samples were analyzed at the Woods Hole Isotope Laboratory; and the dissolved inorganic carbon concentration was analyzed at the University of Rochester. Some of these results were presented at the Gordon Research Conference for Natural Gas Hydrates, Galveston, TX, February 25–March 2, 2018, and the Ocean Carbon & Biogeochemistry Conference on Methane and Nitrous Oxide in the Ocean, Lake Arrowhead, CA, October 28–31, 2018.

USGS is in the process of compiling all seep location data from this project’s cruise, as well as other cruises, to support the release of a preliminary updated seeps database to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

During the upcoming quarter, the data and samples collected during the research cruise will continue to be analyzed. Specifically, researchers plan to begin and complete the analysis of Dissolved Inorganic Carbon concentration.

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution

$797,607 (to University of Rochester)

Performer Contribution

$223,850 (University of Rochester)

Contact Information

NETL – Skip Pratt, Project Manager ( or 304-285-4396)
The University of Rochester – Dr. John Kessler, Principal Investigator (
USGS – Dr. Carolyn Ruppel, Principal Investigator ( or 617-806-6768)

Additional Information