Researchers are reporting that the unusually large number of methane gas plumes detected off the Washington and Oregon coasts may be due to the warming Pacific Ocean.
For the past 10 years, scientists have recorded 168 incidents of methane gas plumes in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Washington state and Oregon. A large number of the plumes were observed at a depth considered to be “critical,” in the stability of methane hydrate.
We already know about the role of carbon dioxide in global warming, but methane gas is also 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Methane gas is emitted through both natural sources and human-caused activities, such as in the production of natural gas.
The findings by researchers at the University of Washington show that warming ocean waters a third of a mile below the surface, the exact depth at which frozen pockets of methane “ice” change over from a dormant solid to a greenhouse gas, could be causing more methane to be released than normal.
According to Science News Online, lead author of the study, H. Paul Johnson, a UW professor of oceanography said “We see an unusually high number of bubble plumes at the depth where methane hydrate would decompose if seawater has warmed. So it is not likely to be just emitted from the sediments; this appears to be coming from the decomposition of methane that has been frozen for thousands of years.”
Methane’s contribution to changes in climate in the past
It is known that methane gas has played a role historically in climate swings. Research has shown that climate changes in the past have led to the destabilization of methane hydrates and thus to the release of methane. The findings in ice core samples are still controversial, but they still are enough of a concern that the studies can’t be totally dismissed.
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