A bit more methane…

new paper in Nature Geoscience documents a large number of seeps of methane gas emerging from the continental margin.  While it has been known for some time that there were large volumes of methane trapped in passive margin sediments, there wasn’t evidence that this methane was interacting with the ocean or atmosphere.  This paper (as the accompanying News and Views article helps make clear) shows that there is a substantial interaction and that most of the seeps, lying as they do at the very upper end of the range where methane ices are stable, might be sensitive to changes in water temperatures.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that this is another place like the Arctic where trapped methane is being pumped into the atmosphere.  The seeps observed are, in some places, clearly very long lived; whether modern rates are similar to the distant past or are accelerating will require more work.  This work does suggest two things: there are methane reserves near the point of destabilization in mid-latitude sediments, and because they are in areas more accessible and better characterized than the Arctic, study of these seeps might be quite useful in understanding the stability and possible instability of these systems and just exactly how they would interact with global warming.

Also see the USGS press release.

If you are wanting to watch the canary in the coal mine, though, you probably want to keep an eye on the Arctic…


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