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We previously reported indirect but compelling evidence that fine-grained H2O ice under elevated CH4 gas pressure can persist to temperatures well above its ordinary melting point while slowly reacting to form methane clathrate hydrate. This phenomenon has now been visually verified by duplicating these experiments in an optical cell while observing the very slow hydrate-forming process as the reactants were warmed from 250 to 290 K at methane pressures of 23 to 30 MPa. Limited hydrate growth occurred rapidly after initial exposure of the methane gas to the ice grains at temperatures well within the ice subsolidus region. No evidence for continued growth of the hydrate phase was observed until samples were warmed above the equilibrium H2O melting curve. With continued heating, no bulk melting of the ice grains or free liquid water was detected anywhere within the optical cell until hydrate dissociation conditions were reached (292 K at 30 MPa), even though full conversion of the ice grains to hydrate requires 6-8 h at temperatures approaching 290 K. In a separate experimental sequence, unreacted portions of H2O ice grains that had persisted to temperatures above their ordinary melting point were successfully induced to melt, without dissociating the coexisting hydrate in the sample tube, by reducing the pressure overstep of the equilibrium phase boundary and thereby reducing the rate of hydrate growth at the ice-hydrate interface. Results from similar tests using CO2 as the hydrate-forming species demonstrated that this superheating effect is not unique to the CH4-H2O system.
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Optical-cell evidence for superheated ice under gas-hydrate-forming conditions