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USGS Gas Hydrates Lab

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Laura Stern: We make a number of different hydrates in the laboratory. Some are with hydrocarbons. Methane being the most abundant. We also make carbon dioxide hydrate, ethane hydrate, propane. A number of different structures.

Laura Stern: So liquid nitrogen is very cold. Itís about a hundred degrees colder than the temperature at which these hydrate samples would dissociate. When they would decompose to ice plus gas on the table top. In here we have a little piece of methane hydrate . Itís enclosed in a soft metal jacket . So, the samples we make, theyíre poly-crystalline. They look like snow. It looks like compacted snow. But, honestly it does contain gas inside.

Laura Stern: Take a little piece off here and, as it warms up, youíll begin to see it pop, itís reverting to ice plus gas, and then as the ice would melt , as it continues to warm, it will end up being water plus gas. So, this will form anywhere you have water and gas at moderately low temperatures or high pressure.

Steve Kirby: My name is Steve Kirby. I am a geophysicist here with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park. I work with Laura Stern who is also a geophysicist in this lab that is devoted towards the investigation of planetary ices and gas hydrates.

Laura Stern: Gas hydrates in nature occur in very remote places and they are very complex, with the sediment interactions and the conditions that they form under. And samples that are brought up are under some sort of alteration or decomposition.

Steve Kirby: Weíve educated ourselves by experiment in learning how to make them in a form thatís suitable for doing material property tests.

Laura Stern: We start in the main portion of the lab making ordinary water ice that we use as a reactant for the hydrates. We grind and sieve that ice and we pack them into pressure vessels and we take that package and we put it into this freezer and we load them onto these two ports and we evacuate all of the pore space between the ice grains and then we have these reservoirs that have pre-chilled gas in them that we then put into that pore space to react with that ice to make hydrate. So we start simple, we make the pure end member hydrates and then we add complexities in the known fashion so that the properties that we measure we understand individual effects of those complexities. Unlike just looking at the samples that are retrieved from nature which are so difficult to analyze.

Laura Stern: This is a sample of, this is a structure two gas hydrate. Itís predominantly methane has a little bit of ethane in it. Weíre going to demonstrate how much gas is actually in this. If you bring a cubic meter of methane hydrate from the ocean floor up to the lab and put it on the table top it would release one hundred and sixty three times its volume of gas at standard conditions. So, it really is a very efficient way of storing gas. Weíre going to demonstrate that by lighting this sample on fire. So, itís decomposing to ice plus gas the gas is flaming and the ice will soon just melt to water. And you can see itís not just a pile of snow that I was showing you.

Steve Kirby: They contain abundant amounts of natural gas. This natural gas is thought to be a significant potential resource for our energy needs later in this century.

Laura Stern: This is a gas hydrate from the Cascadia Margin so this is a natural hydrate brought up from the ocean floor. So, you can see the marine muds in here and these nice nodules of predominantly methane hydrate.

Laura Stern: So, this laboratory is unique in that we have the low temperature capabilities to make the samples. So, we make different types of ice samples or gas hydrates or ammonia hydrates both planetary ices and gas hydrates. And we also have unusual capabilities in how we look at those samples afterwards with the cryogenic capabilities on our x-ray diffractometer as well as, over in another laboratory, a cryogenic set up for scanning electron microscopy. Where you can actually look at the grain textures and pore structures of samples and how they interact with the sediments and how they look in nature compared to how we make them in the laboratory.

Steve Kirby: Lastly, we give insight from our laboratory experience as to the governing kind of physical processes that say govern their stability in nature and how they respond to deformation, changes in pressure and so on. So this is an unusual lab, like I say, there are only a handful of them world wide and we are very fortunate to be here at the geological survey and to have the opportunity of working on them.



Title: USGS Gas Hydrates Lab


Gas hydrates are a significant potential energy source occurring in ocean-floor sediments at water depths greater than 500 meters and beneath Arctic permafrost. The USGS operates a gas hydrates laboratory on its Menlo Park campus. This video features USGS geophysicists Laura Stern and Steve Kirby who relate details on how they study and create gas hydrates in their super-cooled lab. Work in the lab is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and by the USGS Gas Hydrates Project.

Location: Menlo Park, CA, USA

Date Taken: 5/1/2012

Length: 6:45

Video Producer: Stephen M. Wessells , U.S. Geological Survey

Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.

Additional Video Credits:

Video Producer:
Stephen M. Wessells (USGS)

Camera: Haydon Lane

Music: Alon Levitan

On Camera Experts: Laura Stern and Steve Kirby

Science Contact: Laura Stern: email

File Details:

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Tags: Energy EnergyResourcesProgram GasHydrates GasHydratesProject MenloPark Methane NaturalGas USGS permafrost


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