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Fire and ice

What looks like ice burning on the barbeque in this photo is actually a chunk of methane hydrate—a weird mixture of water and methane (natural gas) that forms in the deep seafloor under extreme cold and lots of pressure. During a 2006 research dive to Barkley Canyon off the coast of Vancouver Island, several large chunks of hydrate became caught in the frame of MBARI's remotely operated vehicle Tiburon. In this photo, MBARI chemist Peter Brewer, who led the research expedition, stands of the aft deck of the research vessel Western Flyer, warming his hands over a piece of hydrate that had been lit on fire. Vast fields of hydrates lie buried in deep-ocean sediments around the world. Such hydrates might serve as an energy source, but recovering them in useful quantities poses significant technical and environmental challenges.

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