Bermuda Triangle ghostbusters

October 6, 1995

A shipful of scientists with one Briton on board set sail this month to drill the ocean floor in the Bermuda Triangle .

Their mission is to investigate gas hydrates, which lie below the ocean floor, and which could be a source of fuel far richer than all the world's other fossil fuel supplies. The gas hydrates may be behind the mysterious disappearances of ships and aircraft in the region.

Kim Goodman of Bristol University is to study bacteria, which may produce much of the methane found in the gas hydrates, to find out whether the bacteria would replenish the stocks of methane if they were removed for fuel.

Gas hydrates are ice-like mixtures of methane and water which lie 200-600 metres beneath the ocean floor. The hydrates glue the ocean sediment together and removing them could cause collapses.

This will be the first time that the international ocean drilling rig, Joides Resolution to which the United Kingdom contributes $2.95 million, will drill specifically for gas hydrates. It normally tries to avoid them as getting them to the surface is tricky because they decompose rapidly and can be explosive, according to John Parkes, reader in geomicrobiology at Bristol.

When the drillers haul the cylinders of ocean sediment out of the water, scientists will rush to put it in liquid nitrogen flasks, where it will be cold and under pressure, before it fizzes away.

One theory about the Bermuda Triangle mystery is that the ocean floor may shift, for example because of an earthquake. This could trigger a release of the hydrates - which could explode, or asphyxiate people in nearby ships.

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