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From the Editor

As Geotimes went to press, the price of a barrel of oil was at an all-time high of $55, the presidential candidates were debating about U.S. energy policy, and oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico were still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Ivan, which hit Florida in September. It only seems natural then that some scientists are looking toward a new potential resource — gas hydrates — with high interest and great hope. But the jury is still out, as you will learn in this month’s stories, which take a look at the past, present and future of these unique substances.

“Gas hydrate” — even the term itself sounds unusual. The hydrates may look like ice, but they burn with what some scientists claim is the largest untapped reservoirs of natural gas on the planet. Located onshore in permafrost regions and offshore on the seafloor, hydrate deposits are sensitive to changes to their environment and only stable within a distinct pressure and temperature range. In “Methane Hydrate and Abrupt Climate Change,” Gerald Dickens describes how destabilization of marine deposits of methane hydrate may have released large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas, into the ancient atmosphere — potentially leading to global change. Similarly, researchers have investigated how more recent blowouts of gas hydrates on the seafloor could be responsible for disappearances of ships and planes in the Bermuda Triangle, as Megan Sever reports in this month’s Geophenomena.

Our look at the possible impacts of gas hydrates continues with “Gas Hydrates as a Future Energy Resource,” where Timothy Collett draws from various assessments of the distribution and occurrence of gas hydrates to discuss their viability within our energy mix portfolio. Progress has been rapid in recovering hydrates from beneath the snow and ice in the world’s permafrost regions, but assessing and understanding their marine counterpart is a bit more challenging, as Naomi Lubick discusses in “Detecting Marine Gas Hydrates.”

The clear message from all of these stories is that more work is necessary to understand gas hydrates. By nature, science is speculative, and thus only time will tell how hydrates, or any resource for that matter, could play into our energy future. The world’s supply of oil, a conventional resource much better understood than hydrates, still stands at the center of controversy, as Rasoul Sorkhabi discusses in “The End of Oil?” In this Geomedia special, he discusses five recent books on the subject of the world running out of oil, and makes a strong case for a diverse mix of resources. That mix could take shape in a number of ways, and again, we can only speculate on the outcome.

As we head toward winter, which is sure to be punctuated by high natural gas prices in a predicted El Niño year, it is important to remember the role that science — however uncertain — plays in helping to create solutions for the future. In next month’s Geotimes, we will continue to explore energy issues with a look at oil and natural gas, and in particular some oil hot spots that are further heightening the debate over and complexity of oil and politics.

I hope you enjoy the this month’s issue and that it leads to some speculations of your own.

Lisa Pinsker
Geotimes Managing Editor

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