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Gas . . .

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 . . .and bad gas at that!

Fanciful idea of how a ship could suddenly plunge to the bottom. Methane Hydrate is a cage-like lattice of ice which contains  methane molecules. Methane is a natural gas, but it freezes at temperatures higher than regular ice. Methane hydrates exist all over the world, both under land and under the ocean, but only at depths below 1,000 feet from the sea surface. Studies indicate there could be as much as 200 trillion cubic feet of this gas hydrate for US energy use alone. Worldwide estimates of the hydrate beds project 400 million trillion cubic feet exist. This dwarfs the estimates for natural gas which is only 5000 trillion cubic feet. If gas hydrates can account for the missing in the Bermuda Triangle, they should be causing 10 times the disappearances all around the world considering the vast beds beneath!

   This theory must rate as one of the most impromptu ideas conceived. Since to some muckrakes “news” implies anything new or odd, it is not surprising the idea got around. It’s unfortunate that some people equate that with credibility.

     Although Dr. Ben Clennell, of Leeds University, England,  is not the first to make note of the possibility of methane hydrates as a source for causing ships to disappear, he has become identified with the theory which, on September 21, 1998, at the Festival of Earth Sciences at Cardiff, Wales, he proposed methane hydrates as the future of energy. 

     As a part of his elaborate disertation he claimed that methane locked below the sea sediments in the Bermuda Triangle can explain the mysterious disappearances. He told how subterranean landslides can unlock the vast beds of methane hydrate. This would be disastrous, he told the audience, because large amounts of methane would reduce the density of the water. “This would make any ship floating above sink like a rock.” He went on to explain how the highly combustible gas could also ignite aircraft engines and blow them to pieces.

   This theory was promoted in a semi-serious way by the press at first, but it later came to be dubbed the “Ocean Flatulence Theory,” and in some quarters earned its vociferous proponent the unenviable and humorous nickname of Dr. Flatus.

   The theory is lacking for several reasons. One, the Bermuda Triangle is not the area of largest concentration of Methane Hydrates in the world. There are a lot off the Carolinas which, if this is in the Triangle, it depends on your own particular shape for the area. Two, the majority of ships and planes have not disappeared over this section of the “Triangle.” Three, a number of drilling rigs have in fact accidentally bored into beds of methane hydrates and slowly succumbed to the less dense water, sinking to the bottom. However, none of this was so fast that they could not signal their problem, and on a number of occasions news helicopters circling overhead captured every moment on film— but none of them blew to pieces. 

     There are others in geology who stress that a natural eruption would be so rare it might happen only once every 400 years. They also remind one that the methane has to go through thousands of feet of sediment, thousands of feet of ocean, before it breaks the surface. The chances of a ship being over the precise spot is mathematically astronomical. And it is obvious that no planes are affected by this. 

     The theory gained circulation probably because it was something new, and because both the public and Dr. Clennell had a complete ignorance where most planes and ships disappeared in the Triangle. Such a rare occurrence cannot account for the hundreds of losses over the last centuries, nor explain any aircraft disappearances. It also cannot explain those that vanished over the Bahamas, where the water depths are only 50 feet or so deep, not 1,000 feet. During his dissertation, Clennell admitted that he discovered large beds of methane on the coast line “near the Bermuda Triangle”  which is itself enough rebuttal. Near may matter in horse shoes and hand grenades, but not for ships and planes.

   This cold gas is all hot air.

Going down! A rig bored unexpectedly into methane hydrate beds. In 1981, the drilling vesel Glomar Challenger unexpectedly drilled into a methane bed off Guatemala. For the first time it was able to recover a sample intact. The ship was unaffected and did not sink.