Sun, Jun 24, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Joint research team finds ‘burning ice’ off Taiwan

HAPPY ACCIDENT:The discovery was made when the team sent a sampler to a seamount 1.2km under the surface of the ocean, the science ministry said

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

National Central University professor Hsu Shu-kung holds a chunk of burning methane ice found under the ocean bed off Taiwan’s southwest coast on Thursday.

Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Science and Technology

A team of Taiwanese and French researchers has extracted frozen methane hydrates known as “combustible ice” from under the seabed off Taiwan’s southwestern coast, the Ministry of Science and Technology said on Friday, hailing the achievement as a milestone for the nation’s energy exploration.

The team made the extraction on Thursday at 3:52am in waters near 22° north latitude and 120° east longitude on board the French research vessel Marion Dufresne, the ministry said.

The team used a core sampler to reach a seamount 1.2km below the ocean’s surface and the researchers found that the sampler had scooped up a piece of methane ice, it said.

The discovery was unexpected, as the team originally aimed to evaluate seabed stability in the area, said National Central University (NCU) Department of Earth Sciences professor Lin Jing-yi (林靜怡), who led the project.

The project is part of the second phase of the ministry’s National Energy Program, Lin said, adding that she did not join the voyage herself.

The combustible ice would be kept in Taiwan for further study, in accordance with an agreement with French scientists, Lin said.

Accumulated evidence — mostly gathered by sonar navigation — suggests that the area is rich in methane reserves and combustible ice, Taiwan Oceanic Research Institute director Wang Chau-chang (王兆璋) said.

The discovery came after research that began in 2002, he said, adding that core sampling is a challenging task that requires careful operation of the sampler’s heavy machinery.

Had the nation’s Ocean Researcher V not sunk on Oct. 10, 2014, off the coast of Penghu County, the nation might have made the discovery earlier, Wang said, adding that the duration of the energy program, which is to conclude by the end of this year, could also have been extended.

Wang said he regrets that marine exploration of an energy source in Taiwan can secure funding only when it becomes a trendy subject, adding that China, Japan and South Korea have long been devoting resources to exploring marine energy sources.

The team is to elaborate on their findings at a news conference in Taipei on Wednesday, while the ship’s leading scientist, Hsu Shu-kung (許樹坤), also an NCU professor, is to show video footage of the methane ice, Lin said.

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