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Nature. 2001 Apr 5;410(6829):661-3.

Stable methane hydrate above 2 GPa and the source of Titan's atmospheric methane.

Author information

1
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Mayfield Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JZ, UK. J.Loveday@ed.ac.uk

Abstract

Methane hydrate is thought to have been the dominant methane-containing phase in the nebula from which Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their major moons formed. It accordingly plays an important role in formation models of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Current understanding assumes that methane hydrate dissociates into ice and free methane in the pressure range 1-2 GPa (10-20 kbar), consistent with some theoretical and experimental studies. But such pressure-induced dissociation would have led to the early loss of methane from Titan's interior to its atmosphere, where it would rapidly have been destroyed by photochemical processes. This is difficult to reconcile with the observed presence of significant amounts of methane in Titan's present atmosphere. Here we report neutron and synchrotron X-ray diffraction studies that determine the thermodynamic behaviour of methane hydrate at pressures up to 10 GPa. We find structural transitions at about 1 and 2 GPa to new hydrate phases which remain stable to at least 10 GPa. This implies that the methane in the primordial core of Titan remained in stable hydrate phases throughout differentiation, eventually forming a layer of methane clathrate approximately 100 km thick within the ice mantle. This layer is a plausible source for the continuing replenishment of Titan's atmospheric methane.

PMID:
11287946
DOI:
10.1038/35070513

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