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NURP deploys the First Gas Hydrate Seafloor Observatory in the Gulf of Mexico
This story entered on 23rd Mar, 2006 02:39:03 PM PST

Methane hydrates, a solid form of natural gas that occurs under specific conditions of temperature, pressure, and gas availability are abundant in the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico. The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that in the near future 50% of U.S. petroleum needs will come from the Gulf of Mexico and the Minerals Management Service (MMS) estimates that 60% of those resources are natural gas. Before they can be made available for commercial consumption, DOE and MMS want to ascertain the stability and safety of the sea floor at methane hydrate sites.

NURP, in addition to providing critical water column sensor arrays, subsurface pore-water sampling devices, and key support systems, is interested in the contributions of methane hydrates to the carbon cycle and their potential effects on climate change.

NURP, DOE, and MMS are jointly funding a methane hydrate research project headed by Dr. Bob Woolsey of the Center for Marine Resources and Environmental Technology (CMRET) and the NURP National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology (NIUST) of the University of Mississippi. Dr. Woolsey and his team have designed a remotely operated sea floor observatory that will monitor the water column, ocean bottom, and sediments from within the hydrate stability zone of the continental slope of the northern Gulf of Mexico. In the spring of 2005 two probes were emplaced in sea-floor at the research site in Mississippi Canyon Block 118 in approximately 2,825 feet of water. These probes are currently measuring pore water fluids and site temperature. Additional Observatory sensors were scheduled for installation in late 2005 using the R/V Ocean Quest, under conversion in the shipyard in Gulfport, Mississippi, and two manned submersibles. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita halted all shipyard work indefinitely. However, the Consortium team regrouped and has formulated a new plan for 2006 deployments:

March 1-7: Cruise to acquire high resolution seismic data from block MC118. Test profiles were acquired and are being processed for use in sensor site selection.

March 22-27: Cruise to test the new STRC video/reconnaissance/bottom sampling platform, “DeepSee” at
MC118, also for use in selecting sensor deployment sites.

June 8-18: Sensors/Support system deployment. Two vessels will be used in addition to an ROV to complete the site survey begun in March, assist with geochemical and microbial sensor deployment, complete geophysical sensor link-ups and perform data-logger/osmosampler box recovery.

September 11-15: Johnson SeaLink (manned submersible) cruise to MC118 to deploy additional sensors.

October 17-26: Test cruise to complete sensor deployment, perform systems tests, and recover data.

NURP supports NOAA’s role in gas hydrate research as stated in the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000, which calls for joint NOAA, DOE and MMS participation in the research and development of gas hydrates.

More information:

Contact information
Name: Robert Woolsey


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Updated: April 4, 2006