Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Environmental Analysis

Reader 1

Branwen Williams

Reader 2

Robert Gaines

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Rights Information

© 2016 Graham Tate MacWilliams


Methane hydrates are frozen deposits of methane and water found in high pressure or low temperature sediments. When these deposits destabilize, large quantities of methane can be emitted into the atmosphere. This is significant to climate change because methane has 25 times more greenhouse gas potential than Carbon Dioxide. Worldwide, it is estimated there are between 2500 and 10000 gigatons of methane stored in hydrate deposits. This represents more carbon than all fossil fuels on Earth. It is estimated that between 200 and 2000 gigatons of methane are stored in hydrates in Arctic waters acutely vulnerable to greenhouse warming. Over the last decade, researchers have identified instances of hydrate destabilization that have already begun. To gain insight into the potential climatic effects widespread hydrate dissociation would have, researchers have examined hydrate dissociation during the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum 55 million years ago as a geologic precedent. In this period, large-scale hydrate dissociation contributed to 5-8 degree Celsius warming worldwide. If such a climatic shift were to transpire today, impacts on society would be enormous. There is currently a debate in the scientific community as to whether the risk of methane hydrate dissociation is relevant to the present generation. One side argues that not enough methane could be emitted into the atmosphere from today’s hydrate sources to have a meaningful impact on climate warming, where the other side contends that more than enough methane could be emitted from present day hydrate deposits to cause significant impacts to the global greenhouse effect. Given the information currently known about hydrates, it is reasonable to conclude there is a moderate risk of widespread destabilization that could impact global climate change in the coming decades. Significant acceleration of the conversion to alternative energies and implementation of geoengineering strategies should be considered.