Letter abstract

Nature Geoscience 2, 566 - 570 (2009)
Published online: 26 July 2009 | doi:10.1038/ngeo591

Methane-derived hydrocarbons produced under upper-mantle conditions

Anton Kolesnikov1,2, Vladimir G. Kutcherov2,3 & Alexander F. Goncharov1


There is widespread evidence that petroleum originates from biological processes1, 2, 3. Whether hydrocarbons can also be produced from abiogenic precursor molecules under the high-pressure, high-temperature conditions characteristic of the upper mantle remains an open question. It has been proposed that hydrocarbons generated in the upper mantle could be transported through deep faults to shallower regions in the Earth's crust, and contribute to petroleum reserves4, 5. Here we use in situ Raman spectroscopy in laser-heated diamond anvil cells to monitor the chemical reactivity of methane and ethane under upper-mantle conditions. We show that when methane is exposed to pressures higher than 2 GPa, and to temperatures in the range of 1,000–1,500 K, it partially reacts to form saturated hydrocarbons containing 2–4 carbons (ethane, propane and butane) and molecular hydrogen and graphite. Conversely, exposure of ethane to similar conditions results in the production of methane, suggesting that the synthesis of saturated hydrocarbons is reversible. Our results support the suggestion that hydrocarbons heavier than methane can be produced by abiogenic processes in the upper mantle.

  1. Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, District of Columbia 20015, USA
  2. Lomonosov Moscow State Academy of Fine Chemical Technology, 117571 Moscow, Russia
  3. Royal Institute of Technology, SE-100 44 Stockholm, Sweden

Correspondence to: Alexander F. Goncharov1 e-mail: goncharov@gl.ciw.edu


These links to content published by NPG are automatically generated.


High-pressure physics The double identity of ice X

Nature News and Views (19 Mar 1998)

The Origins of Petroleum

Nature News and Views (17 Dec 1966)

See all 4 matches for News And Views