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Released February 26, 2003

SOUTHERN MISS SEMINAR EXAMINES FLAMMABLE ICE

OCEAN SPRINGS Frozen methane on the ocean floor and what it means to our planet will be the topic of a seminar at two University of Southern Mississippi locations March 6 and 7.

The seminar, presented through an international research program's distinguished lecturer series, will feature Dr. Gerald R. Dickens speaking on "Extreme Climates and Frozen Methane: The Global Carbon Cycle with Gas Hydrate."

Seminars are scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6, in the Thames Polymer Science Research Center auditorium on the Hattiesburg campus; and at 2 p.m. Friday, March 7, in the Caylor Building auditorium at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs. A reception will follow each presentation.

"We know the climate warmed in the past," said Dr. Charlotte Brunner, Southern Miss professor of marine science. She said the current hypothesis about prehistoric global warming is that a giant methane event – an enormous release into the atmosphere – occurred. "There is concern that the same thing could happen again," she said. "Dr. Dickens is looking at the ancient record to learn if it happened and how it happened."

Both Brunner and Dickens, a geochemist from Rice University, have worked on cruises of the Ocean Drilling Program, an international partnership of scientists and research institutions organized to study the evolution and structure of the Earth.

Brunner, a paleoceanographer, first encountered methane hydrates on an ODP research cruise in the Sea of Japan. Gas hydrates are crystalline solids made up of gas, usually methane molecules, surrounded by a cage of water molecules.

"We brought it up in a core; someone pulled out a lighter and set it afire. This ice ignited and burned. It was the strangest thing," Brunner said

Brunner and Dr. Jay Grimes, Southern Miss provost for the Hattiesburg campus, worked together to bring the drilling program's distinguished lecturer to the university. Funded primarily by the U.S. National Science Foundation and its international partners, the deep sea drilling project uses a special ship that punches deep into the earth's crust and is fully equipped with laboratories to study the cores and other samples.

Dickens will give students, faculty and guests an inside look at the drilling program's progress in unlocking the mysteries of methane hydrates.

"The investigation of frozen methane gas lying on the floor of the oceans of the world, including the Gulf of Mexico, is intriguing and offers up a treasure trove of discovery and hypothesis-driven research for a variety of scientists," Grimes said. He noted that vast amounts of frozen methane are thought to exist on the deep ocean floor and are a potential energy source, even though methane is a greenhouse gas.

"It (methane hydrate) has an effect on the carbon cycle, and it provides nourishment to bizarre marine bacteria and invertebrates," Grimes said. "This is better than a Jules Verne novel."

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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