Methane Index: A tetraether archaeal lipid biomarker indicator for detecting the instability of marine gas hydrates Academic Article uri icon


  • Gas hydrates represent one of the largest pools of readily exchangeable carbon on Earth's surface. Releases of the greenhouse gas methane from hydrates are proposed to be responsible for climate change at numerous events in geological history. Many of these inferred events, however, were based on carbonate carbon isotopes which are susceptible to diagenetic alterations. Here we propose a molecular fossil proxy, i.e., the "Methane Index (MI)", to detect and document the destabilization and dissociation of marine gas hydrates. MI consists of the relative distribution of glycerol dibiphytanyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs), the core membrane lipids of archaea. The rational behind MI is that in hydrate-impacted environments, the pool of archaeal tetraether lipids is dominated by GDGT-1, -2 and -3 due to the large contribution of signals from the methanotrophic archaeal community. Our study in the Gulf of Mexico cold-seep sediments demonstrates a correlation between MI and the compound-specific carbon isotope of GDGTs, which is strong evidence supporting the MI-methane consumption relationship. Preliminary applications of MI in a number of hydrate-impacted and/or methane-rich environments show diagnostic MI values, corroborating the idea that MI may serve as a robust indicator for hydrate dissociation that is useful for studies of global carbon cycling and paleoclimate change. 2011 Elsevier B.V.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 6

author list (cited authors)

  • Zhang, Y. G., Zhang, C. L., Liu, X., Li, L. i., Hinrichs, K., & Noakes, J. E.

citation count

  • 194

complete list of authors

  • Zhang, Yi Ge||Zhang, Chuanlun L||Liu, Xiao-Lei||Li, Li||Hinrichs, Kai-Uwe||Noakes, John E

publication date

  • January 2011