Origin of hydrate-bound hydrocarbons

A relationship between C1/(C2 + C3) and C1 δ13C has been applied to identify the sources of hydrocarbons in submarine seeps24. Recently, this diagram was revised based on a large dataset25. As shown in Fig. 4a, hydrate-bound hydrocarbons at the Kedr MV have thermogenic and/or secondary microbial origins, whereas those of other gas hydrate sites (Malenky, Bolshoy, Malyutka, Peschanka P-2, Kukuy K-0, Kukuy K-2 and Goloustnoe; Fig. 1) in Lake Baikal demonstrate microbial or early mature thermogenic origins. The hydrate-bound C1 from all locations except those at the Kedr MV were interpreted to be of microbial origin via methyl-type fermentation23 according to Whiticar’s old diagram26; however, the revised diagram25 suggests early mature thermogenic gases (Fig. 4b). Those of the Kedr MV plot at the boundary of the thermogenic and secondary microbial origin zones. Low C1 and C2 δ13C at the Peschanka P-2 MV indicated that C1 and C2 are of microbial origin27,28, whereas Kedr MV shows high C1 and C2 δ13C indicating their thermogenic origin (Fig. 4c). At other sites, C1 and C2 δ13C suggested that gases are mainly of microbial origin (in terms of C1) with some thermogenic component (13C rich and higher concentration in C2).

Stable isotopes in hydrate-bound C1 at the Kedr-1 and Kedr-2 areas suggested its thermogenic origin. However, it is close to the field of secondary microbial C1 in Fig. 4b, and the data are plotted in the overlap between the fields of thermogenic and secondary microbial in Fig. 4a. Milkov29 mentioned that secondary microbial C1 is characterised by C1-rich dry gas, large C1 δ13C (between − 55‰ and − 35‰) and large CO2 δ13C (more than + 2 ‰). Although hydrate-bound and sediment gases in the Kedr MV were not C1 rich and contained 3%–15% of C2, C1 δ13C was around − 45‰, which agrees with the secondary microbial C1. Because some data of secondary microbial gas are plotted outside the field on the original graph25, we could include the gas data in the category of secondary microbial C1 in Fig. 4b.

Figure 6 shows the relationship between C1 δ13C and CO2 δ13C in the sediment gas obtained using headspace gas method. According to the genetic diagram25, gas hydrate cores are plotted at the zones of the thermogenic and secondary microbial origins, whereas the cores at the peripheral area are primary microbial. The headspace gas data of the hydrate-bearing cores in Fig. 6 seem to be plotted in the field of thermogenic gas (low CO2 δ13C), but the effect of light CO2 produced by methane oxidation in the subsurface layer also decreased CO2 δ13C as shown in Fig. 5. These results suggested that secondary microbial C1 mixes into thermogenic gas. Coal-bearing sediments exist around the Kedr area21,22, and secondary microbial C1 can also form from coal beds30. Hydrate-bound C1 of secondary microbial origin has been only reported at the Alaska North Slope31. This study is another case for it.

Figure 6

A diagram of headspace gases. CO2 δ13C plotted against C1 δ13C, based on the classification of Milkov and Etiope25.

Formation process of the sII gas hydrates

As stated before, the crystallographic structure of gas hydrates at the Kedr MV is mainly due to the composition of thermogenic C2 in the volatile hydrocarbons. The concentration of C3, which is one of the sII-forming components, was two to three orders of magnitude smaller than that of C2, because biodegradation occurs and this preferentially reduces C3−5 of n-alkanes19,32, 33. The concentration of n-C4 was smaller than that of i-C4, whereas that of n-C5 was not detected (Table 1). C3 δ13C was around − 10‰, suggesting that light C3 is consumed by microbial activity. Assuming that sediment gas C3+ can be ignored, sediment gas ratio C1/C2 at the study area was 30 ± 17 (mean and standard deviation), and the concentration of C2 was ~ 3%. Such a composition of thermogenic gas is, therefore, considered to be supplied from a deep sediment layer, forming sI gas hydrates composed of mainly C1 and C211,12 in the lake floor sediment.

In the cases where sI gas hydrates plug and block migration pathways, upward fluid flow becomes more focused in other areas16. Once gas supply stops locally, gas hydrates begin to decompose, with the gas dissolving into gas–poor sediment pore water. In the system of C1 and C2, C2 is prone to be encaged in gas hydrate and decreases the equilibrium pressure of mixed-gas hydrate. Therefore, C2-rich gas hydrate forms in parallel with the decomposition of sI gas hydrate. The Colorado School of Mines Hydrate (CSMHYD) program34 showed that C2-rich sII gas hydrate (C2 concentration 17%) forms from mixed gas composed of C1 and C2 (C2 concentration 3%). The C2 concentration of hydrate-bound gas at the Kedr MV was ~ 14%, agreeing fairly well with the results of the CSMHYD program. Such secondary generation of gas hydrates can produce compositions and crystallographic structures that are different from the original crystals. A calorimetric study of synthetic C1 and C2 mixed-gas hydrate revealed that double peaks of heat flow correspond to the dissociation process of C1 and C2 mixed-gas hydrate, suggesting that C2-rich gas hydrate forms simultaneously from dissociated gas and showed that the second heat flow peak correspond to the dissociation of C2-rich gas hydrate18. The PXRD and solid-state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance techniques demonstrated that C2-rich sI gas hydrate forms in the dissociation process of C1 + C2 sII gas hydrate35.

Among twenty hydrate-bound cores in the Kedr area, four cores contained sI only, seven cores had sII only, and seven cores showed sII at the upper layer and sI at the lower layer, as observed at the Kukuy K-2 MV13,16,17. Furthermore, in the cores 2015St1GC15 and 2016St18GC2, gas hydrate structure had sI at the upper and lower layer, and sII at the middle layer. These results suggested that complex gas hydrate layers are composed of sI and sII in subsurface sediments as shown in the schematic illustration in Poort et al.16.

Depth profiles of C2 δ2H of gas hydrate cores from the Kedr MV are shown in Fig. 7. C2 δ2H of hydrate-bound gases varied between − 227‰ and − 206‰, with a grouping around − 210‰. C2 δ2H of sediment gases was also around − 210‰, indicating that C2 δ2H of the original thermogenic gas is − 210‰. As stated above, C2 δ2H of some cores showed low values at their base. Based on the isotopic fractionation of hydrogen in C2 during the formation of sI C2 hydrate36, δ2H of hydrate-bound C2 was 1.1‰ lower than that of residual C2. However, this is too small to explain the wide distribution in C2 δ2H shown in Fig. 7. On the other hand, Matsuda et al.37 reported that isotopic fractionation of hydrogen in C2 is dependent on the crystallographic structure: 1‰–2‰ for sI and ~ 10‰ for sII. Gas hydrates plotting around − 220‰ in C2 δ2H can be explained as a secondary generation of sII from dissociated gas hydrates, of which C2 δ2H was around − 210‰. However, some sII samples showed high C2 δ2H (around − 210‰), whereas some sI samples showed low C2 δ2H (around − 220‰). These results indicated that formation and dissociation processes of gas hydrates produce complicated isotopic profiles in C2 δ2H under non-equilibrium conditions.

Figure 7

Depth profiles of C2 δ2H of hydrate-bound and sediment gases. cmblf, centimetres below lake floor.

Characteristics of hydrate-bound gases in sII

C3, i-C4, n-C4 and neo-C5 can be encaged in the larger hexadecahedral cages of sII1. n-C4 and neo-C5 can be encaged using a help gas (e.g. C1) to fill in the smaller dodecahedral cages of sII, because they cannot form pure n-C4 and neo-C5 hydrates, respectively. Figure 8 shows the concentration of C3, i-C4, n-C4, neo-C5 and i-C5 plotted against C2 concentration. The figure illustrates a clear division between sI (3–4%) and sII (14%) C2 concentrations. Data points between C2 concentrations of 5% and 13% were considered to have a mixture of sI and sII. Concentrations of C3, i-C4, n-C4 and neo-C5 had a positive correlation with the concentration of C2, and these concentrations in sII were 1 or 2 orders of magnitude larger than those in sI, suggesting that C3, i-C4, n-C4 and neo-C5 are encaged with C2 in the sII formation process.

Figure 8

Concentration of C3–5 against C2 concentration in the hydrate-bound gases.

C3 values of 0.001%–0.01%, ~ 0.0001% of n-C4, and 0.0001%–0.01% of neo-C5 were also detected in sI hydrate-bound gas (Fig. 8), despite these hydrocarbons being unable to be encaged in sI. This can be explained by gases being adsorbed with sediments and gas hydrate crystals, which are then trapped in the grain boundary of polycrystalline gas hydrate crystals, and the gases are encaged if a small amount of sII crystals are present. For example, Uchida et al.38 examined natural gas hydrate retrieved at the Mackenzie Delta (onshore Canada) and detected C3 encaged in sII using Raman spectroscopy, although PXRD results suggested that the sample was sI and the major component of hydrate-bound gas was C1 (more than 99%).

neo-C5 is considered to form from the decomposition of gem-dimethylcycloalkanes derived from the terpenes of terrestrial organic matter39. It is easily enriched by preferential diffusion due to the nearly spherical molecules and its diffusion coefficient, which is higher than that of less branched isomers40. The sII hydrates retrieved at the Kukuy K-2 MV (central Baikal basin) contained 0.026–0.064% of neo-C5 in the volatile hydrocarbons13,14, and those at the Kedr MV had a maximum value of 0.054% of neo-C5 (Supplementary Information Table S1). On the contrary, in the case of natural gas hydrates retrieved at the Joetsu Basin (Japan Sea), neo-C5 was excluded and remained in sediment during the formation of sI gas hydrates from C1-rich gas41. The molecular size of i-C5 is considerably large to be encaged in the large cages of sII. Maximum concentration of i-C5 in the hydrate-bound gases was in several parts per million in both the fields of sI and sII (Fig. 8), indicating that i-C5 is not a hydrate-bound hydrocarbon and adsorbed with gas hydrate crystals and/or trapped in their grain boundary.

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