Methane clathrate

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Methane clathrate, also called methane hydrate, hydromethane, methane ice or "fire ice" is a solid clathrate compound (more specifically, a clathrate hydrate) in which a large amount of methane is trapped within a crystal structure of water, forming a solid similar to ice.[1] Originally thought to occur only in the outer regions of the Solar System where temperatures are low and water ice is common, significant deposits of methane clathrate have been found under sediments on the ocean floors of Earth.[2] The worldwide amounts of methane bound in gas hydrates is conservatively estimated to total twice the amount of carbon to be found in all known fossil fuels on Earth. [3]

Methane clathrates are common constituents of the shallow marine geosphere, and they occur both in deep sedimentary structures, and as outcrops on the ocean floor. Methane hydrates are believed to form by migration of gas from depth along geological faults, followed by precipitation, or crystallization, on contact of the rising gas stream with cold sea water. Methane clathrates are also present in deep Antarctic ice cores, and record a history of atmospheric methane concentrations, dating to 800,000 years ago.[4] The ice-core methane clathrate record is a primary source of data for global warming research, along with oxygen and carbon dioxide.

The average methane clathrate hydrate composition is 1 mole of methane for every 5.75 moles of water, though this is dependent on how many methane molecules "fit" into the various cage structures of the water lattice. The observed density is around 0.9 g/cm3.[5] One litre of methane clathrate solid would therefore contain, on average, 168 litres of methane gas (at STP).[nb 1]

Methane forms a structure I hydrate with two dodecahedral (12 vertices, thus 12 water molecules) and six tetradecahedral (14 water molecules) water cages per unit cell. This compares with a hydration number of 20 for methane in aqueous solution.[6] A methane clathrate MAS NMR spectrum recorded at 275 K and 3.1 MPa shows a peak for each cage type and a separate peak for gas phase methane.[citation needed] Recently, a clay-methane hydrate intercalate was synthesized in which a methane hydrate complex was introduced at the interlayer of a sodium-rich montmorillonite clay. The upper temperature stability of this phase is similar to that of structure I hydrate.[7]


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