A new study clearly indicates that hydrogen gas is seeping from Carolina bays. These are shallow, ovoid depressions on the Atlantic Coastal Plain of the USA. These depressions range in size from hundred meters to several kilometers wide. There are hundreds of thousands of them on the Atlantic coastal region. The origin of these structures is not clear and many hypotheses have been debated. Among them wind action, comet impact, dissolution effects and even fish nests. To date, no one expected that these features seep natural hydrogen.
Picture from the article: Satellite image of North Carolina, USA with Carolina bays encircled by orange lines.
Inspired by the recent discovery of hydrogen seepages on the European part of Russia, scientists (including researchers from our team) tested Carolina bays for the presence of natural molecular hydrogen. Their expectations confirmed the discovery of H2 gas inside and around Carolina bays, while outside hydrogen seepage was not detected. The results were published in Progress in Earth and Planetary Science journal.
The possible sources for this gas are discussed in the paper. First of all, authors checked for the possibility of biogenic production. This assumption was the first in the list taking into account that hydrogen was discovered near wetlands. It was demonstrated by experiments that hydrogen was not coming from biological activity. Moreover, field experiments showed that highest concentrations of hydrogen were recorded in the coarse sand bordering the depressions, which contained no organic material. Authors tested many assumptions as to the origin of hydrogen and concluded that is has a deep origin.
Hydrogen is a very reactive gas and cannot remain unchanged for long periods of time in the conditions of Earth’s crust. It was previously observed in very particular places, like rift zones or ophiolitic belts. Discovery of this gas in the heart of continents, where no one expected it, suggests that this is a newly recognized natural phenomenon.
According to the authors, there are tens of thousands of similar structures spread around the world. It is possible that we are faced with a significant and previously unknown new source of a natural gas. Taking into account that the age of Carolina bays (dated by other teams), it is possible that the hydrogen flow may last for thousands of years.
Hydrogen is the most energy-rich gas and currently considered to be a good candidate to replace fossil fuels. Major automakers are working on hydrogen cars, with some models already commercially available. The main problem remains the source of hydrogen, which is currently produced mostly by reformatting natural gas. This is considered by critics as neither “clean” nor energy efficient and results in considerable pollution. The discovery of substantial sources of natural hydrogen gas may result in a cost effective boost for the hydrogen economy.
The potential of these hydrogen gas seeps to be a source of a clean primary energy is the subject of current project of Natural Hydrogen Energy company.