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Undersea Methane Plumes – No Effect on Climate Change, Yet

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Undersea methane deposits - Driver of, or driven by, climate change?
Undersea methane deposits – Driver of, or driven by, climate change?

There are a number of greenhouse gases (GHG) tied to climate change, and finding new sources of them is somewhat of a concern.

We’re most familiar with carbon dioxide (CO2), but there are others, including methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3), as well as a number of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). Many of these are manmade. For example, the EPA (Environmental protection Agency) and other regulatory agencies have issued CO2 limits on transportation, power production, and industry, to combat the effects that the gas has on climate change.

We seem to be finding ever more sources for non-manmade GHGs, such as methane, the main component of natural gas, which has about 33 times the climate change GHG potential of CO2. Fracking has been linked to atmospheric plumes of methane, as have landfills, some of which have been tapped to contain and utilize the valuable gas. Recently, methane deposits may have been to blame for the collapsed pingo in northern Russia, but it’s actually the other way around, not only for the Russian Arctic, but even undersea methane deposits.

As climate change warms the atmosphere, the land, and the water, ice is melting. Melting permafrost in the Russian Arctic leads to CH4-containing ice to melt and release it. Polar ice-melt may seem to affect only sea-level rise, but we can’t forget the effect it has on undersea ice. Recently, methane plumes have been discovered coming from the Arctic sea floor, and another report indicates that many such plumes have been found in non-polar regions, such as off the United States’ East Coast. Fortunately, research finds that the methane seems to be oxidizing before it reaches the surface, the resulting CO2 being absorbed by the ocean, also leading to acidification, but the immediate effect on the climate is uncertain. The fact that seafloor ice is melting and releasing methane, however, is a sure indicator that climate change is affecting the planet in ways that may be irreversible.

Photo credit: Photo Extremist

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2 COMMENTS

  1. @ray from bristol i suppose it is fortunate that undersea methane is oxidizing as it surfaces, but the result of this oxidation is water and carbon dioxide, leading to ocean acidification and a host of other issues. add to this the fact that we have no idea how much is escaping. i wonder, however, is climate change driving methane plumes, or is it the other way around?

  2. “Does methane trap heat? Yes. But carbon dioxide has caused three times more warming than methane.”  http://clmtr.lt/c/Lpm0Bbk0cMJ

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