Ocean Waters Prevent Ancient Methane From Reaching The Atmosphere


There are ancient methane reservoirs, referred to as methane hydrates, which lie near continents. The methane hydrates are trapped in ocean sediments, which are a huge storehouse for the powerful greenhouse gas.

Researchers have given a warning that even if a bit of the massive reservoir is released, it could significantly aggravate the current state of climate change. The waters of the ocean help in preventing the ancient methane from reaching the atmosphere but the warming waters could release the methane gas.

Methane’s Origin In The Arctic Ocean

Katy Sparrow, who is an environmental scientist from the University of Rochester, studied methane’s origin in the Arctic Ocean to see if the ancient methane was being released and if it would travel to the atmosphere.

“Our goal was to fingerprint the source of methane in the Arctic Ocean to determine if ancient methane was being liberated from the seafloor and if it survives to be emitted to the atmosphere,” Sparrow said.

Fieldwork And Research

Sparrow and her team chose a spot just off the shore of Alaska’s North Slope, close to Prudhoe Bay, to conduct their fieldwork. The researchers referred to this area as the ground zero for ocean warming that resulted in methane emissions from the ocean.

The shallow areas near continents in certain regions of the Arctic Ocean might be one of the environments where warming processes have been breaking down methane hydrates for the last 15,000 years.

Along with the ancient methane reservoirs, carbon-rich permafrost, which dates back to thousands of years and found all over the land and seafloor sediments in the Arctic, can generate methane once it thaws due to warming.

The mix of the incessant warming taking place in the Arctic and the shallow depths of water means that any methane released has a small area to travel, from being emitted from the seafloor to getting released into the atmosphere.

The team, however, noticed that even if increasing methane amounts are released from degrading hydrates as a result of climate change, catastrophic emission to the atmosphere is not an inherent outcome.

Although the research team did not analyze what prevented the released seafloor methane from going into the atmosphere, they think that microorganisms could be biodegrading the methane in the ocean before it reached the surface waters.

Kessler explained that the emission of ancient methane to the atmosphere, in the region which is going through some of the greatest present-day warming activities, is relatively quite small especially in comparison to emissions that come from human activities.

The research team published their study in Scientific Advances.

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