Case Studies in Earth & Environmental Science Journalism

Coastal Zone Management:

Methane Hydrates, Global Climate, and the Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum (LPTM).


This case study has many things in common with another we have studied this quarter, the bolide impact hypothesis for the mass-extinction at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. Both involve a relatively sudden (in geologic time) physical explanation of a biological catastrophe. However, these perhaps similar stories have been told in different ways. Until very recently, the LPTM story has been told in less catastrophic terms. Also, the two case studies differ dramatically regarding how the journalistic and scientific stories developed over time. For the most part, the bolide impact was a single idea with a long fought battle. The LPTM thesis, however, seems to emerge from a slow accumulation of evidence and ideas. The former involved a lot of controversy compressed into a small time-frame, the latter involved incremental steps toward coherence. Finally, the LPTM thesis and methane hydrates in general has many as yet unclear implications for human welfare and energy policy, some of which are being addressed now, as the US government moves toward funding methane research.

Questions to Ponder and Discuss



Scientific Papers: Methane Hydrates, Clobal Climate and Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum

Kennett, J.P., Stott, L.D., (1991). "Abrupt deep-sea warming, paleooceanographic changes and benthic extinctions at the end of the Paleocene." Nature 353 (September): 225-229.

Kvenvolden, K.A. (1999). "Potential effects of gas hydrate on human welfare." PNAS 96 (March): 3420-3426.

Bains, S., et al. (1999). "Mechanisms of Climate Warming at the End of the Paleocene." Science 285 (July): 724-727.

Katz, M., et al. (1999). "The source and Fate of Massive Carbon Input During the Latest Paleocence Thermal Maximum." Science 286 (November): 1531-1533.


Popular Articles: Methane Hydrates, Clobal Climate and Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum

Hindley, K. (September 17, 1986). "The hiss that unlocked a sea of power." The Times, London, UK: A10.

Gold, T. (January 30, 1989). "Natural Gas May Hold Key in Global-Warming Era." The New York Times. New York, USA: Editorial Page, letter.

Shabecoff, P. (January 17, 1989). "Global Warming: Experts Ponder Bewildering Feedback Effects." The New York Times. New York, USA: C1.

Weiss, R. (March 20, 1995). "Researchers Seek Key to Frozen Energy's Crystalline Cage." The Washington Post. Washington, D.C., USA: A3.

Chang, K. (December 14, 1995). "Methane May Play Key Role in Global Warming." The New York Times. New York, USA.

Petit, C. (October 22, 1996). "ICE THAT WON'T MELT." The San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, USA: A15.

Moastersky, R. (November 9, 1996). "The Mother Lode of Natural Gas." Science News, USA: 298.

Suess, E., et al. (November, 1999). "Flammable Ice." Scientific American. New York, USA: 76.

Hecht, J. (November 9, 1997). "Scorched Earth." New Scientist. UK: 20.

Simpson, S. (February, 2000). "Methane Fever." Scientific American. New York, USA: 298.

Yulsman, T. (September 9, 1998). "The Day the Sea Stood Still." The Washington Post. Washington, D.C., USA: H1.

Pearce, F. (May 2, 1998). "Wind of Change." New Scientist. London, UK: 35.

McKie, R. (November 7, 1999). "Methane fuel puts planet in danger." Observer. London, UK: C1.

Spice, B. (Pitzburgh Post-Gazette, February 12, 1999). "Science prying out secrets of early era of global warming." Arizona Republic. Phoenix, USA: A11.

No byline. (November 18, 1999). "Researchers find evidence for cause of ancient global warming." Associated Press. USA.

Recer, P. (November 18, 1999). "Researchers find evidence for cause of ancient global warming." Associated Press. USA.

Fordahl, M. (July 26, 2000). "Mass extinction traced to oceanic methane burp." Associated Press. USA.

Cook, G. (October 17, 2000). "Gas Attack." Boston Globe. Boston, USA: F1.


Industry/Business Articles: Methane Hydrates, Clobal Climate and Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum

Licking, E. (December 14, 1998). "The World's Next Power Surge?" Business Week. New York, USA: 79-80.

No byline. (January-February, 2000). "Will Methane Hydrates Fuel the Future?" Power. McGraw-Hill, USA: 28.

No byline. (November 25, 1998). "Methane Hydrates: Approaching Commerciality." Petroleum Economist. USA: 34.


Hawkes, N. (November 24, 1999). "Uncorking nature's gas bottle." The Times. London, UK: Features.

Macdermid, A. (September 8, 1998). "Shetland on the edge of vast supply of clean energy in gas crystals..." The Herald. Glasgow, UK: 4.

No byline. Yomiuri (January 13, 1998). "Scientists hope to tap deep deposits of natural gas in areas near Japan." The Daily Yomiuri. Tokyo, Japan: 13.

Suderarajan, P. (January 5, 1998). "Call to promote use of nuclear energy in India." The Hindu. Hyderabad, India: 14.

Land, T. (London Observer, December 14, 1997). "Seabed may be source of energy for centuries." The Plain Dealer. Cleveland, USA: 29A.


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