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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Mechanism of Methane Gas Migration Through the Gas Hydrate Stability Zone: Insights From Numerical Simulations


Free gas migration through the gas hydrate stability zone (GHSZ) and subsequent gas seepage at the seabed are characteristic features in marine gas hydrate provinces worldwide. The biogenic or thermogenic gas is typically transported along faults from deeper sediment strata to the GHSZ. Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain free gas transport through the GHSZ. While inhibition of hydrate formation by elevated salinities and temperatures have been addressed previously in studies simulating unfocused, area-wide upward advection of gas, which is not adequately supported by field observations, the role of focused gas flow through chimney-like structures has been underappreciated in this context. Our simulations suggest that gas migration through the GHSZ is, fundamentally, a result of methane gas supply in excess of its consumption by hydrate formation. The required high gas flux is driven by local overpressure, built up from gas accumulating below the base of the GHSZ that fractures the overburden when exceeding a critical pressure, thereby creating the chimney-like migration pathway. Initially rapid hydrate formation raises the temperature in the chimney structure, thereby facilitating further gas transport through the GHSZ. As a consequence, high hydrate saturations form preferentially close to the seafloor, where temperatures drop to bottom water values, producing a prominent subsurface salinity peak. Over time, hydrates form at a lower rate throughout the chimney structure, while initial temperature elevation and salinity peak dissipate. Thus, our simulations suggest that the near-surface salinity peak and elevated temperatures are a result of transient high-flux gas migration through the GHSZ.

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