Dynamics of Gas Hydrates and Permafrost in the Eurasian and North American Arctic Land-Shelf System

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Project Personel

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Scientific Personel: T. E. Osterkamp, N.N. Romanovskii (Moscow State University), V. E. Romanovsky, G. S. Tipenko, S. I. Pokrovsky
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Project Summary

Methane hydrates occur wherever methane and water exist in close proximity at low temperatures and elevated pressures; conditions that are present in permafrost regions and beneath the sea along the outer continental margins. Consequently, methane hydrates are thought to be widespread in both onshore permafrost regions of the North American and Russian Arctic and in the shallow continental shelves of the Arctic Ocean, where subsea permafrost is found. Methane gas may be released to the atmosphere because of hydrate destabilization as a result of climatic warming and changes in sea level. Current models of climate predict a climatic warming and permafrost temperatures are known to have increased 2 - 4 °C during this century. With present knowledge, it is not possible to predict the amount of methane that is currently being released and that will be released by gas hydrate decomposition as a result of permafrost, especially subsea permafrost, degradation.

We propose a research effort that will involve a survey of existing data on gas hydrate and permafrost conditions in the Russian Arctic land-shelf system to establish boundary conditions, properties, occurrence and distribution to use as input data for a two-dimensional numerical model of gas hydrates and permafrost. This model was developed by us in the late 1980s and modified in the early 1990s specifically for studies of permafrost, subsea permafrost and gas hydrates over long time scales. The proposed research is a continuation of and builds on this previous research. The model will be applied to several sites in North America and Russia to evaluate permafrost degradation in response to changes in climate and sea level and the potential for gas hydrate production. The information generated by the model will be useful for making improved estimates of the possible fluxes of methane into the atmosphere as a result of permafrost degradation and gas hydrate decomposition.

The research will be conducted jointly by Geophysical Institute and Russian investigators.

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