Methane hydrates are solids composed of rigid cages of water molecules that enclose methane. Sediment containing methane hydrates is found within specific pressure-temperature conditions that occur in regions of permafrost and beneath the sea in outer continental margins. Because methane hydrates are globally widespread and concentrate methane within the gas-hydrate structure, the potential amount of methane present in the shallow geosphere at subsurface depths of < ???2000 m is very large. However, estimates of the amount are speculative and range over about three orders of magnitude, from 2 ?? 103 to 4 ?? 106 Gt (gigatons = 1015 g) of carbon, depending on the assumptions made. The estimate I favor is ??? 1 ?? 104 Gt of carbon. The estimated amount of organic carbon in the methane-hydrate reservoir greatly exceeds that in many other reservoirs of the global carbon cycle - for example, the atmosphere (3.6 Gt); terrestrial biota (830 Gt); terrestrial soil, detritus and peat (1960 Gt); marine biota (3 Gt); and marine dissolved materials (980 Gt). In fact, the amount of carbon may exceed that in all fossil fuel deposits (5 ?? 103 Gt). Because methane hydrates contain so much methane and occur in the shallow geosphere, they are of interest as a potential resource of natural gas and as a possible source of atmospheric methane released by global warming. As a potential resource, methane hydrates pose both engineering and production problems. As a contributor to a changing global climate, destabilized methane hydrates, particularly those in shallow, nearshore regions of the Arctic Ocean, may have some effect, but this effect will probably be minimal, at least during the next 100 years. ?? 1988.