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Crustal fingering facilitates free-gas methane migration through the hydrate stability zone

Fu, Xiaojing and Jimenez-Martinez, Joaquin and Nguyen, Thanh Phong and Carey, J. William and Viswanathan, Harl and Cueto-Felgueroso, Luis and Juanes, Ruben (2020) Crustal fingering facilitates free-gas methane migration through the hydrate stability zone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 117 (50). pp. 31660-31664. ISSN 0027-8424. PMCID PMC7749334. doi:10.1073/pnas.2011064117.

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Widespread seafloor methane venting has been reported in many regions of the world oceans in the past decade. Identifying and quantifying where and how much methane is being released into the ocean remains a major challenge and a critical gap in assessing the global carbon budget and predicting future climate [C. Ruppel, J. D. Kessler. Rev. Geophys. 55, 126–168 (2017)]. Methane hydrate (CH₄⋅5.75H₂O) is an ice-like solid that forms from methane–water mixture under elevated-pressure and low-temperature conditions typical of the deep marine settings (>600-m depth), often referred to as the hydrate stability zone (HSZ). Wide-ranging field evidence indicates that methane seepage often coexists with hydrate-bearing sediments within the HSZ, suggesting that hydrate formation may play an important role during the gas-migration process. At a depth that is too shallow for hydrate formation, existing theories suggest that gas migration occurs via capillary invasion and/or initiation and propagation of fractures (Fig. 1). Within the HSZ, however, a theoretical mechanism that addresses the way in which hydrate formation participates in the gas-percolation process is missing. Here, we study, experimentally and computationally, the mechanics of gas percolation under hydrate-forming conditions. We uncover a phenomenon—crustal fingering—and demonstrate how it may control methane-gas migration in ocean sediments within the HSZ.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle Information
Fu, Xiaojing0000-0001-7120-704X
Jimenez-Martinez, Joaquin0000-0002-2063-6490
Carey, J. William0000-0001-8488-2925
Viswanathan, Harl0000-0002-1178-9647
Juanes, Ruben0000-0002-7370-2332
Additional Information:© 2020 National Academy of Sciences. Published under the PNAS license. Edited by David A. Weitz, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, and approved November 3, 2020 (received for review May 30, 2020). PNAS first published November 30, 2020. We thank Carolyn Ruppel and William Waite from the US Geological Survey; Peter Flemings, Kehua You, and Dylan Meyer from the University of Texas at Austin; Gareth Crutchley from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel for insightful discussions; and David Santillán (Technical University of Madrid) and Ehsan Haghigat (MIT) for help with the code development. This work was supported in part by the US Department of Energy Grants DE-SC0018357 and DE-FE0013999. X.F. was supported by the Miller Fellowship. J.J.-M. was supported by Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology and Guest Scientist status from Los Alamos National Laboratory. J.J.-M., J.W.C., T.P.N., and H.V. were supported by US Department of Energy Basic Energy Science Program Grant LANLE3W1. L.C.-F. was supported by Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness Grants RYC-2012-11704 and CTM2014-54312-P. L.C.-F. and R.J. were supported by MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives, through a Seed Fund grant. Data Availability: All study data are included in the article and SI Appendix. X.F. and J.J.-M. contributed equally to this work. Author contributions: X.F., J.J.-M., T.P.N., J.W.C., L.C.-F., and R.J. designed research; X.F., J.J.-M., T.P.N., J.W.C., and H.V. performed research; X.F. and J.J.-M. analyzed data; and X.F., J.J.-M., J.W.C., L.C.-F., and R.J. wrote the paper. The authors declare no competing interest. This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. This article contains supporting information online at
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Department of Energy (DOE)DE-SC0018357
Department of Energy (DOE)DE-FE0013999
Miller Institute for Basic Research in ScienceUNSPECIFIED
Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyUNSPECIFIED
Los Alamos National LaboratoryUNSPECIFIED
Department of Energy (DOE)LANLE3W1
Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad (MINECO)RYC-2012-11704
Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad (MINECO)CTM2014-54312-P
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:methane hydrate; pattern formation; microfluidics; phase-field method
Issue or Number:50
PubMed Central ID:PMC7749334
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20201130-131557272
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Crustal fingering facilitates free-gas methane migration through the hydrate stability zone. Xiaojing Fu, Joaquin Jimenez-Martinez, Thanh Phong Nguyen, J. William Carey, Hari Viswanathan, Luis Cueto-Felgueroso, Ruben Juanes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Dec 2020, 117 (50) 31660-31664; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2011064117
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:106845
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:02 Dec 2020 16:46
Last Modified:09 Feb 2022 20:00

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