Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Oceans may be large, overlooked source of hydrogen gas


Gas may lie near slow-spreading tectonic plates on the seafloor

Rocks formed beneath the ocean floor by fast-spreading tectonic plates may be a large and previously overlooked source of free hydrogen gas (H2), a new Duke University study suggests.

Deposits of serpentinized rock such as this could be a previously overlooked source of free hydrogen gas, a new Duke study finds.

Credit: NOAA Ocean Explorer

The finding could have far-ranging implications since scientists believe H2 might be the fuel source responsible for triggering life on Earth. And, if it were found in large enough quantities, some experts speculate that it could be used as a clean-burning substitute for fossil fuels today because it gives off high amounts of energy when burned but emits only water, not carbon.

Recent discoveries of free hydrogen gas, which was once thought to be very rare, have been made near slow-spreading tectonic plates deep beneath Earth's continents and under the sea.

"Our model, however, predicts that large quantities of H2 may also be forming within faster-spreading tectonic plates -- regions that collectively underlie roughly half of the Mid-Ocean Ridge," said Stacey L. Worman, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, who led the study while she was a doctoral student at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Total H2 production occurring beneath the oceans is at least an order of magnitude larger than production occurring under continents, the model suggests.

"A major benefit of this work is that it provides a testable, tectonic-based model for not only identifying where free hydrogen gas may be forming beneath the seafloor, but also at what rate, and what the total scale of this formation may be, which on a global basis is massive," said Lincoln F. Pratson, professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke, who co-authored the study.

The scientists published their peer-reviewed study in the July 14 online edition of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The new model calculates the amount of free hydrogen gas produced and stored beneath the seafloor based on a range of parameters -- including the ratio of a site's tectonic spreading rate to the thickness of serpentinized rocks that might be found there.

Serpentinized rocks -- so called because they often have a scaly, greenish-brown-patterned surface that resembles snakeskin -- are rocks that have been chemically altered by water as they are lifted up by the spreading tectonic plates in Earth's crust.

Molecules of free hydrogen gas are produced as a by-product of the serpentinization process.

"Most scientists previously thought all hydrogen production occurs only at slow-spreading lithosphere, because this is where most serpentinized rocks are found. Although faster-spreading lithosphere contains smaller quantities of this rock, our analysis suggests the amount of H2 produced there might still be large," Worman said.

"Right now, the only way to get H2 -- to use in fuel cells, for example -- is through secondary processes," Worman explained. "You start with water, add energy to split the oxygen and hydrogen molecules apart, and get H2. You can then burn the H2, but you had to use energy to get energy, so it's not very efficient."

Mining free hydrogen gas as a primary fuel source could change that, but first scientists need to understand where the gas goes after it's produced. "Maybe microbes are eating it, or maybe it's accumulating in reservoirs under the seafloor. We still don't know," Worman said. "Of course, such accumulations would have to be quite significant to make hydrogen gas produced by serpentinization a viable fuel source."

If further research confirms the model's accuracy, it could also open new avenues for exploring the origin of life on Earth, and for understanding the role hydrogen gas might play in supporting life in a wide range of extreme environments, from the sunless deep-sea floor to distant planets.


Worman and Pratson conducted the study with Jeffrey Karson, professor of earth sciences at Syracuse University, and Emily Klein, professor of earth sciences at Duke.

Worman received her Ph.D. in earth and ocean sciences from Duke in 2015.

CITATION: "Global Rate and Distribution of H2 Gas Produced by Serpentinization within Oceanic Lithosphere," Stacey L. Worman, Lincoln F. Pratson, Jeffrey Karson, Emily Klein. Geophysical Research Letters, July 14, 2016. DOI: 10.1002/2016GL069066

Media Contact

Tim Lucas


Tim Lucas | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Wandering greenhouse gas
16.03.2018 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System
14.03.2018 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Development and Fast Analysis of 3D Printed HF Components

19.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

In monogamous species, a compatible partner is more important than an ornamented one

19.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Signaling Pathways to the Nucleus

19.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>