Geothermal Conditions For Gas Hydrate Stability In The Beaufort-Mackenzie Area- The Global Change Aspect

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Journal Article: Geothermal Conditions For Gas Hydrate Stability In The Beaufort-Mackenzie Area- The Global Change Aspect

Gases locked in hydrates or trapped beneath a gas hydrate cap within the earth are potential contributors to the greenhouse effect, and therefore both thermal conditions of and occurrences of the methane hydrates should be considered in the study of past climate change and of future global warming. The decomposition of methane hydrates triggered by an increase in near surface temperatures and the subsequent upward migration of released gases is occurring at present in the Beauffort-Mackenzie area of northern Canada. In addition to surface warming, the warming effect of the upward flow of the deep fluids, recharged in high elevation areas bordering the Alaska and Yukon coastal plain, may also be a factor in the release of methane directly from deeper buried hydrates in the fluid discharge zones. Any assessment of the total methane contribution to the atmosphere and the rate of the release requires a knowledge of the distribution, spatially and with depth, the temperature and composition of the gas hydrates. In this study the zones of methane hydrate stability are predicted by a thermal method and compared with the distribution of hydrates detected on well logs. An extensive hydrate prone layer extending to as deep as 1400±200 m over an area of 50,000 km2 is predicted by the thermal data and hydrate stability field. Comparison of the predicted maximum depths of methane hydrate stability with the maximum depths of hydrate occurrences in 52 wells shows general agreement in the areas of thick offshore and onshore permafrost. Differences in several areas of up to 400 m between the thermally predicted hydrate base and the deepest detected hydrates (detected hydrates are deeper than the predicted ones) can be explained by changes in gas composition. Otherwise low near-surface thermal gradients of approximately 15 mK/m to 20 mK/m (in comparison with observed deep thermal gradients of 25-40 mK/m) would be needed to explain the existence of deep hydrates in the area of the southern Mackenzie Delta trough and offshore north of 71° N latitude. Unfortunately there is no reliable industrial temperature observation from wells to support the latter. Such regional studies of the distribution of gas hydrates, including the stability of those deposits, form a crucial component of an assessment of the influence of gas hydrate formation and decomposition on the proportion of methane present in the earth's atmosphere. Current estimates suggest that between 10.E18 and 10.E21 tonnes of methane may be presently locked in gas hydrate deposits. To fully assess the total amount and the potential contribution to global warming, similar regional assessments are needed for each of the major areas of occurrence, especially in the circumpolar regions which are subject to the greatest increase in temperature conditions.

A. S. Judge and J. A. Majorowicz

Published Journal 
Global and Planetary Change, 1992



A. S. Judge,J. A. Majorowicz. 1992. Geothermal Conditions For Gas Hydrate Stability In The Beaufort-Mackenzie Area- The Global Change Aspect. Global and Planetary Change. (!) .