Oct 2, 2009
Gas hydrates: entrance to a methane age or climate threat?
Methane hydrates, ice-like compounds in which methane is held in crystalline cages formed by water molecules, are widespread in areas of permafrost such as the Arctic and in sediments on the continental margins. They are a potentially vast fossil fuel energy source but, at the same time, could be destabilized by changing pressure–temperature conditions due to climate change, potentially leading to strong positive carbon–climate feedbacks.
To enhance our understanding of both the vulnerability of and the opportunity provided by methane hydrates, it is necessary (i) to conduct basic research that improves the highly uncertain estimates of hydrate occurrences and their response to changing environmental conditions, and (ii) to integrate the agendas of energy security and climate change which can provide an opportunity for methane hydrates—in particular if combined with carbon capture and storage—to be used as a 'bridge fuel' between carbon-intensive fossil energies and zero-emission energies.
Taken one step further, exploitation of dissociating methane hydrates could even mitigate against escape of methane to the atmosphere. Despite these opportunities, so far, methane hydrates have been largely absent from energy and climate discussions, including global hydrocarbon assessments and the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Continue reading this ERL letter: Volker Krey et al 2009 Environ. Res. Lett. 4 034007
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