09 Aug 2021

09 Aug 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Review Article: Permafrost Trapped Natural Gas in  Svalbard, Norway

Thomas Birchall1,2, Malte Jochmann1,3, Peter Betlem1,2, Kim Senger1, Andrew Hodson1, and Snorre Olaussen1 Thomas Birchall et al.
  • 1Department of Arctic Geology, The University Centre in Svalbard, P.O. Box 156, N-9171 Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway
  • 2Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1047, Blindern, 0316 Oslo, Norway
  • 3Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS, Vei 610 2, 9170 Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Norway

Abstract. Permafrost has become an increasingly important subject in the High Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. However, whilst the uppermost permafrost intervals have been well studied, the processes at its base and the impacts of the underlying geology have been largely overlooked. More than a century of coal, hydrocarbon and scientific drilling through the permafrost interval shows that accumulations of natural gas trapped at the base permafrost is common. They exist throughout Svalbard in several stratigraphic intervals and show both thermogenic and biogenic origins. These accumulations combined with the relatively young permafrost age indicate gas migration, driven by isostatic rebound, is presently ongoing throughout Svalbard. The accumulation sizes are uncertain, but one case demonstrably produced several million cubic metres of gas over eight years. Gas encountered in two boreholes on the island of Hopen appears to be situated in the gas hydrate stability zone and thusly extremely voluminous. While permafrost is demonstrably ice-saturated and acting as seal to gas in lowland areas, in the highlands it appears to be more complex, and often dry and permeable. Svalbard shares a similar geological and glacial history with much of the Circum-Arctic meaning that sub-permafrost gas accumulations are regionally common. With permafrost thawing in arctic regions, there is a risk that the impacts of releasing of sub-permafrost trapped methane is largely overlooked when assessing positive climatic feedback effects.

Thomas Birchall et al.

Status: open (until 08 Oct 2021)

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Thomas Birchall et al.

Thomas Birchall et al.


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Short summary
Svalbard has over a century of drilling history, though this historical data is largely overlooked nowadays. After inspecting this data, stored in local archives, we noticed the surprisingly common phenomenon of gas trapped below the permafrost. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and the Arctic is warming at unprecedented rates. The permafrost is the last barrier preventing this gas from escaping into the atmosphere and if it thaws it risks a feedback effect to the already warming climate.