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Gas hydrates belong to a special category of chemical substances known as inclusion compounds. An inclusion compound is a physical combination of molecules in which one component becomes trapped inside the other. In gas hydrates, gas molecules are physically trapped inside an expanded lattice of water molecules. The pressures and temperatures beneath Arctic water depths greater than 1,100 ft (335 m) and subtropical water depths greater than 2,000 ft (610 m) are suitable for the formation of methane hydrate. Theoretical depths to the base of a gas hydrate layer in ocean bottom sediments are determined by assuming: (1) a constant hydrostatic pressure gradient, (2) two typical hydrothermal gradients, (3) variable geothermal gradients, and (4) pure methane hydrated with conna e seawater.
In addition to pressure and geothermal gradient, other variables affecting the stability of gas hydrate are examined. These variables are hydrothermal gradient, sediment thermal conductivity, heat flow, hydrate velocity, gas composition, and connate water salinity. If these variables are constant in a lateral direction and the above assumptions are valid, a local geothermal gradient can be determined if the depth to the base of a gas hydrate is known.
The base of the gas hydrate layer is seen on seismic profiles as an anomalous reflection nearly parallel to the ocean bottom, cross-cutting geologic bedding plane reflections, and generally increasing in sub-ocean bottom time with increasing water depth. The acoustic impedance is a result of the relatively fast velocity hydrate layer overlying slower velocity sediments. In addition, free gas may be trapped beneath the hydrate, thereby enhancing the reflection.
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