The Atlantic is leaking methane – but researchers say there's no cause for alarm

methane_bubbles[1]We’ve seen all this before, but there is a twist this time, the authors of the paper are dialing back the alarm a bit.

“…authigenic carbonates observed imply that emissions have continued for more than 1,000 years at some seeps.”

From the BBC – 24 August 2014 ‘Widespread methane leakage’ from ocean floor off US coast

Researchers say they have found more than 500 bubbling methane vents on the seafloor off the US east coast.

The unexpected discovery indicates there are large volumes of the gas contained in a type of sludgy ice called methane hydrate.

There are concerns that these new seeps could be making a hitherto unnoticed contribution to global warming.

The scientists say there could be about 30,000 of these hidden methane vents worldwide.

Previous surveys along the Atlantic seaboard have shown only three seep areas beyond the edge of the US continental shelf.

Here is the sonar image:

Atlantic_methane_plumes

………..

There are concerns that these new seeps could be making a hitherto unnoticed contribution to global warming……..

The scientists say that the warming of ocean temperatures might be causing these hydrates to send bubbles of gas drifting through the water column….

But it is important to say we simply don’t have any evidence in this paper to suggest that any carbon coming from these seeps is entering the atmosphere.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-28898223

h/t to reader “Jimbo” in Tips and Notes

The paper:

Widespread methane leakage from the sea floor on the northern US Atlantic margin

Sharke et al. Nature Geoscience (2014) doi:10.1038/ngeo2232

Methane emissions from the sea floor affect methane inputs into the atmosphere1, ocean acidification and de-oxygenation2, 3, the distribution of chemosynthetic communities and energy resources. Global methane flux from seabed cold seeps has only been estimated for continental shelves4, at 8 to 65 Tg CH4 yr−1, yet other parts of marine continental margins are also emitting methane. The US Atlantic margin has not been considered an area of widespread seepage, with only three methane seeps recognized seaward of the shelf break. However, massive upper-slope seepage related to gas hydrate degradation has been predicted for the southern part of this margin5, even though this process has previously only been recognized in the Arctic2, 6, 7. Here we use multibeam water-column backscatter data that cover 94,000 km2 of sea floor to identify about 570 gas plumes at water depths between 50 and 1,700 m between Cape Hatteras and Georges Bank on the northern US Atlantic passive margin. About 440 seeps originate at water depths that bracket the updip limit for methane hydrate stability. Contemporary upper-slope seepage there may be triggered by ongoing warming of intermediate waters, but authigenic carbonates observed imply that emissions have continued for more than 1,000 years at some seeps. Extrapolating the upper-slope seep density on this margin to the global passive margin system, we suggest that tens of thousands of seeps could be discoverable.

http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo2232.html

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What´s collision between Tectonical plates? What’s to be found in re. chemical elements under tectonical plates? Is it possible that “researchers” never ever learnt what an ordinary school’s 8th grader should know?

johnmarshall

There are two subduction zones in the Atlantic, one in the eastern Caribean the other in the Southern Oceanic part of the Atlantic. There are no subduction zones off the American east coast. The west coast yes.

Almost correct, but not exactly. There are some even if they are minor on American east coast far north.

Cam_S

Global Warming is causing methane. Ocean temperatures are rising. Let’s not forget ocean acidification.
Hundreds of ‘toxic’ methane vents discovered in the Atlantic’s depths – and they could be caused by global warming
A large number of methane vents have been found off the US East Coast
Suggests such leakage is far more widespread in the Atlantic than thought
Previously only three seepage areas had been known of in this area
Increased levels of methane can make water more acidic and deadly to life
The vents could be caused by a warming ocean linked to climate change
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2733719/Hundreds-methane-vents-Atlantic-Discovery-570-seepage-areas-stuns-scientists.html

johnmarshall

Ocean pH levels have remained within their natural levels 7.6-8.4 ever since it has been measured. Even with the current SLIGHT rise of CO2. In no way can the oceans be called acid. They are all alkal.

Jimbo

“But it is important to say we simply don’t have any evidence in this paper to suggest that any carbon coming from these seeps is entering the atmosphere.”

Could it be due to the Methane-Consuming Archaea?
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/293/5529/484.short

…….but authigenic carbonates observed imply that emissions have continued for more than 1,000 years at some seeps. Extrapolating the upper-slope seep density on this margin to the global passive margin system, we suggest that tens of thousands of seeps could be discoverable.

Could it be the seeps were always there? Just asking.

MattS

If only we could capture that methane for energy? Hmmm.

Jimbo

For any passers by who are wondering: methane seeps are nothing new. They have been around for such a long time that there are methane eating bacteria – as well as natural oil seep eating bacteria.

Eocene deep-sea communities in localized limestones formed by subduction-related methane seeps, southwestern Washington
http://geology.gsapubs.org/content/18/12/1182.short

Any mention from anyone that this has been going on forever, and will continue to go on forever? (or at least within the time of Man’s presence here)
They act like a thousand plumes just started up yesterday, because Climate Change or something.

richard

is the Methane gas biogenic or thermogenic .

J

Cam_S,
You didn’t read the article abstract did you?
Global warming is not “causing” the methane. The abstract clearly says that based on the deposits, some of these vents have been releasing methane for more than a 1000 years.
And, no ocean temperatures may be technically rising, but due to the vast heat capacity of water compared to the atmosphere, the temperature rise on average is hundredths and even thousandths of a degree ! Not enough to change methane processes.
Refresh my chemistry, how does a neutral hydrocarbon molecule like CH4 make water acidic?
The link you cite blames bacteria for generating the methane not humans.

Jimbo

MattS
August 25, 2014 at 1:13 pm
If only we could capture that methane for energy? Hmmm.

The work on that energy source has already begun.

BBC – 12 March 2013
Japan extracts gas from methane hydrate in world first
http://www.bbc.com/news/business-21752441
==================
HuffPo – 04/16/2013
Arctic’s Methane Hydrate Supply May Be Tested For Energy Use In New Study
The DOE; ConocoPhillips; and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. completed field work on a nearly $29 million experiment to extract methane hydrate. The research focused on an extraction technique developed by ConocoPhillips and the University of Bergen in Norway in which researchers injected carbon dioxide into methane hydrate. The carbon dioxide molecules swapped places with methane molecules, freeing the methane to be harvested but preserving ice in the reservoir.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/17/arctic-methane-hydrate-alaska-energy-study_n_3096426.html

Carbon capture does have its uses after all. 😉

Dr. Strangelove

If methane hydrate is economical, the Big Oil will be scrambling to put pipelines under the sea. The concentration is too low. It’s more economical to extract methane from toilets, sewage, cow and pig manure. There’s energy in shit.

copernicus34

they are dialing down the alarmism because Man cannot be blamed for this, this would in some way detract with their goal.

AnonyMoose

It’s nice that someone has some more number on this, but it’s hardly surprising. Many hydrocarbon deposits are known in eastern states, so it’s quite likely that similar formations extend under the coast. Also, the underwater terrain has ongoing erosion, although a different type of erosion than during the glacial eras when much coastal land (which is presently underwater) was exposed to rainfall erosion. The continental shelf certainly is not a sealed reservoir area, so of course there is leakage there.

Jimbo

Cam_S,
all I see is COULD. I could sneeze in 5 minutes time.

Methane? By product of an animal farting. I kid you not.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

This is when the nutters show up, claim this is proof of abiotic oil, point to Thomas Gold’s The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels, and further claim there is an endless supply of energy from methane available as the planet itself is constantly making it which completely ignores the replenishment versus the potential removal rates while not noting all the other critters and natural processes that consume the methane.
What more proof do you need these people are raving loonies than Amazon saying this book is Frequently Bought Together with The Great Oil Conspiracy: How the U.S. Government Hid the Nazi Discovery of Abiotic Oil from the American People by Jerome R. Corsi (2012)?

Latitude

they discovered denitrification in the ocean……I’m shocked

Richard – they report it is biogenic. So…. what’s the story here, right?
zzzzzz………

Bruce Cobb

Some Gas-X should do the trick.

kenw

saw something a while back that indicated large volume outbursts of a gas from the ocean floor could rise and foil the bouyancy of ships, causing them to sink rather instantly. It was being proposed as a Burmuda Triangle ’cause’. At the time the rising gas was indicated (to me) to be well known, the theory part at that point was the large volume aspect as if it could collect/’pool’ under sediment and then burst forth once the overburden was lifted. Like a large belch. A large, flammable belch.

rogerknights

Quick, the Beano!
If these methane leaks aren’t new, but were only recently discovered, or if they a new only because they are cyclic, then that means that released methane doesn’t make it up to the upper atmosphere, where its incidence hasn’t been rising much.

SIGINT EX

🙂
Step 1) 2 NaCl (Salt) + 2 H2O -> 2 NaOH + H2 + Cl2 (Chlorine Gas)
Step 2) CH4 (Methane) + 4 Cl2 → CCl4 (Carbon Tetrachloride) + 4 HCl (Hydrochloric Acid)
In Step 2 Carbon Tetrachloride escapes the oceans to make the Ozone holes at the poles and becomes the nemesis of the Montreal Protocol and we get ocean acidification from Hydrochloric Acid.
Voilà!

M Courtney

Jimbo is more right than he chooses to claim.
If methane vents change then all the microbes that live because of the natural release of that simple, natural compound will be affected. They will boom! Or they will decline!
Remember the BP muck-up in the Gulf of Mexico. Aquatic microbes fixed that.
Environmentally stabilising feedbacks are preferred by Darwinian selection.
As Douglas Adams wrote, “Don’t Panic”.

ShrNfr

Seep and you shall find. So read it and seep.

EternalOptimist

I read an interesting theory many decades ago, probably in ‘Omni’
where the bermuda triangle mysteries were explained by methane hydrates
I sort of remember reading at the same time, that a quarter of human CO2 was being produced by peat burning underground in Indonesia, set alight by forest clearance and subsequent drying of the peat.
I would have paid more attention if I had known about the lunacy that has been foisted upon us since

Martin Hodgkins

I just looked back and realised it said “no cause for alarm”. It had me worried there for a minute you know methane and all that. Thank god for that.

And bring a towel.

you don’t have to be crazy to know there is abiotic and biotic methane. Look at Titan. How much of Earth’s hydrocarbons are abiotic? I don’t know…anyone got a resource?

saveenergy

“But it is important to say we simply don’t have any evidence in this paper to suggest that any carbon coming from these seeps is entering the atmosphere.”
So that’s OK then, we can sleep easy……But ! but ! it’s worse than we though, methane is deadlier than CO2 (there must be an algore-rhythm) that’s why 97% if ill-informed people want to kill all the cows.
The scientists say there could be about 30,000 of these hidden methane vents worldwide…….it’s mixing with the hidden heat!!!!!
(Thinks – must have a panic attack & run around waving hands in air & screaming “It’s a tipping point, we’re doomed )

DesertYote

J
August 25, 2014 at 1:25 pm
Cam_S,
You didn’t read the article abstract did you?
###
You didn’t read the AWG spinning BBC piece did you?
That is what Cam_S was quoting, via the daily mail.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)
August 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm
“This is when the nutters show up, claim this is proof of abiotic oil,..[blah blah blah] “
= = = = = = = = = = = = =
Thanks for the poisoning the wells of abiotic petroleum. Awesome!
But now be honest with yourself and everyone else: What could be more nutty than cheerfully violating the 2nd thermodynamic law just for the sake of the fantastical fossil fable?
http://www.pnas.org/content/99/17/10976.long

Half Tide Rock

So one sees a very nice structure the top of which is releasing methane. DUH! I saw an estimate of technically recoverable fossil fuels dated 2006 from the Minerals Management Service MSS that estimated 37 trillion cubic feet of recoverable off shore gas just off New England alone .(Beaufort Sea is 27 tcf) Of course we are gagged. the Mesozoic sediments are hard to find on any map( but the Canadians are smiling just on the other side of the Hague line) and we are just pretending these essentially proven ( by the Canadians ) reserves don’t exist. We can’t even look as the far East blows up in front of our eyes. Putin makes his move in the Crimea and controls the pipelines to Western Europe. I call this policy a stupidity,…. criminal stupidity.. No natural oil leaks in the Gulf of Mexico either for these people who live in a fantasy world. Fantasy world, fantasy data, fantasy solutions and real world disasters because of fantasy decisions based upon someone’s wild imagination and ability to control the information that the public gets in order to make political decisions.. There should be a punishment for knowingly feeding the public fantasy information. AARGH! Just thinkin’

L Wilkes
rogerknights

Here’s a quote from Singer in today’s TWTW thread:

One, methane has a short lifetime in the atmosphere. Two, atmospheric water vapor absorption of infrared radiation overlaps partly with that of methane – and you can’t absorb the same radiation twice. And, three, methane’s infrared absorption is in a region of the spectrum where the earth normally emits little energy– unlike for CO2.

Lil Fella from OZ

In AUS land there was a building prevented being constructed because the methane reading was too high. This was in the centre of a large town next door to a service station. The problem is, what is too high and what about the surrounding area which included the town!? No comment!

latecommer2014

Isn’t it obvious? If they say this methane is entering the atmosphere they have the problem of another natural source stealing some of the warming attributed toCO2. It would diminish their anthropological evidence. They might shy away from any climate connection. Doing the right thing for perhaps the wrong reason.

Larry

Shallow as this is, my first guess is it is from biotic debris accumulated in the ocean bottom sediments.
The abiotic hydrocarbons are under the basement rocks, way way deeper. The determination that there are huge amounts of water bound up in the rocks at that level makes the formation of hydrocarbons an inevitability.

Of course methane is no problem. You can’t tax it.

Mike Lewis

Step 1) 2 NaCl (Salt) + 2 H2O -> 2 NaOH + H2 + Cl2 (Chlorine Gas)
SIGINT EX – this is an electrolysis process, please explain how this can happens in situ.

Jerry Henson

Kadaka,
I am one of the nutters to whom you refer. It is not fossil fuel.
Hydrocarbons have seeped to the surface for hundreds of million years.
200 million years of layers of carbonate rock are on display in the Grand Canyon to testify to the large amount of carbon continuously emitted from deep in the earth (the same place diamonds originate), and stored as rock by the oceans,to be recycled by tectonic action approximately 100mi down, rising back to the surface as hydrocarbons.
Upland topsoil, in the presence of adequate moisture, owe its richness to the amount of methane up welling through it.
This is not a theory. I have proved it.
I challenge you to find a plot of rich soil, dig a hole through the top soil, well into the subsoil, take an inverted stainless steel bowl into which you have drilled a hole and attach a copper tube which is long enough to extend above the topsoil. Attach a closed gas valve and refill the hole, using water to help reconsolidate the soil. Allow the gas to accumulate for a couple of days and attach the sniffer hose from a combustible gases tester available from Amazon for about $170.
I have done this test many times and it is always positive for natural gas.
The Russians became the worlds largest producer of hydrocarbons following the abiotic theory.
Thomas Gold was one of the great original thinkers of the 20th century.
Among other things, he was responsible for the theory describing the workings of the inner ear, the earth’s magnet polls reversing, and telling NASA that the moon would would be coated in fine dust.
Read the results of NASA’ orbiting of Titan. The oceans are all abiotic hydrocarbons.
All of the extra-solar system planets which I have read about which have has their atmosphere analysed contain atmospheric hydrocarbons.
Hydrocarbons have been created abioticly in a diamond press on the bench.
When I last checked, no one had made oil out of kerogen on the bench.

CH4 has very minimal IR absorption range to be of any concern.

Gary Pearse

EternalOptimist
August 25, 2014 at 2:36 pm
“I read an interesting theory many decades ago, probably in ‘Omni’
where the bermuda triangle mysteries were explained by methane hydrates”
You are probably correct. If the bubbles become abundant enough, the buoyancy of the water declines..and ships go down. There was also the mystery of five fighter aircraft that took off from Florida in the 1940s and disappeared. They were a few years ago found all within a mile of each other on the sea floor in the B. Triangle. A likely theory is that a puff of methane dense enough caused the engines to starve of oxygen and down they went. This theory was tested by “mythbusters” on a program and they concluded it highly probable. Of course there are other theories that the pilots got disoriented and didn’t know where they were – maybe they were gassed with methane – likely not wearing oxygen for low level flying.
http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20115230,00.html

1) It is a natural source of fossil carbon. Human inpact may be minimal.
2) Depletion of C-13 in surface sea waters is not anymore exact indicator of human fossil burning.
3) You have changed the layout of the blog. I must say that’s fine even I am agains all changes including climate change.

Bob Diaz

So how long until someone says, “It’s worse than we thought” and “This is more ‘proof’ of ‘Global Warming'”?

Doug Proctor

Fossil carbon or new carbon? Is this another source of fossil carbon that reduces human/fossil fuel carbon?
Just wondering. It does seem that each advance in knowledge reduces the amount of impact humans and fossil fuel have on the current CO2 input to the atmosphere …..

Methane is nothing to worry about.
The most extreme scenario I’ve seen discussed is Shakhova et al (2008) (which is the abstract of a presentation, rather than a peer-reviewed paper), which reported that “we consider release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time…with consequent catastrophic greenhouse warming.'”
(Note: I’ve not found a longer version of the Shakhova (2008) presentation, but Chris Reynolds [who’s very much in the AGW camp] has an analysis here.)
The atmosphere currently contains about 1.8 ppmv of methane (CH4), with a mass of about 5.3 Gt. 50 Gt of methane is nearly 10 times the total amount of methane currently in the atmosphere. A sudden release of that much methane is highly implausible.
But, just for the sake of argument, let’s see what it would do if it happened.
Adding that much methane all at once would bump methane from 1.8 ppmv to 18.8 ppmv. I plugged that into U.Chicago’s NCAR Radiation Code web interface (with insolation 500, const rel hum 70%, CH4 1.8 ppm, N2O 0.3 ppm, low cloud 30%, high cloud 25%). It calculates that increasing CH4 from 1.8 ppmv to 18.8 ppmv would raise the equilibrium temperature by 1.6°C, after the amplifying effect of water vapor feedback is added.
But the actual temperature rise would certainly be much less, because temperatures would never reach equilibrium, because the CH4 spike would be of very short duration. The half-life of CH4 in the atmosphere is only about 7 years. So after seven years the CH4 level would be back down to about 10 ppmv, and NCAR-calculated equilibrium temperature increase down to just +1°C, and falling.
The U.Chicago’s MODTRAN interface calculates even less effect. MODTRAN tropical atmosphere (cumulus 0.66km-2.7km, const rel humidity, Iout=260.714) calculates only +0.92°C of warming at equilibrium, as the result of boosting CH4 from 1.8 ppmv to 18.8 ppmv.
(Note that “constant relative humidity” effectively incorporates the amplifying effect of water vapor.)
In other words, even an impossibly gigantic 50 Gt sudden methane release, which spiked CH4 levels to 10x their current level, would cause only a slight, brief bump in temperatures.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

From Jerry Henson on August 25, 2014 at 5:07 pm (out of sequence):

When I last checked, no one had made oil out of kerogen on the bench.

Heating crushed oil shale in a sealed retort without oxygen to produce oil from the contained kerogen is a very old technique. This source has making oil from kerogen for lamps occurring commercially way back in 1830.
http://www.westernresourceadvocates.org/land/oilshalebasics.php
All I had to do was Google “kerogen” to find out how to make oil out of kerogen on the bench.

Upland topsoil, in the presence of adequate moisture, owe its richness to the amount of methane up welling through it.
This is not a theory. I have proved it.

You have proved that moist topsoil which is rich enough to support multitudes of methane-producing bacteria and other critters, owes its richness to the byproduct of the richness. Which has truth in it, good soil is a complex symbiotic interaction, critters that produce methane support critters that eat methane which do things that support the methane producers.
You captured some methane from below the topsoil. Whoopee. Bacteria that produce methane have existed for millions of years down to miles underground. Why wouldn’t they be under your topsoil and even under your subsoil?

I’m surprised that they are surprised, the earth has been degassing since day one. Another taxpayers grant that really does not tell us anything new, just a set-up for the next grant. Maybe launch a OCO-2 type satellite just to study methane.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

From Khwarizmi on August 25, 2014 at 3:36 pm (copied without the formatting):

But now be honest with yourself and everyone else: What could be more nutty than cheerfully violating the 2nd thermodynamic law just for the sake of the fantastical fossil fable?
http://www.pnas.org/content/99/17/10976.long

Good example! This is clearly a non-peer-reviewed “pass through” member submission, not meant to be taken seriously. Look at the “scientific terms”:

The bean-eater’s reaction is:

The octane-enhanced bean-eater’s reaction is:

However, no biochemical investigation has ever observed a molecule of any hydrocarbon heavier than methane resulting from the decomposition of biological detritus. After a meal of, e.g., Boston baked beans, one does experience biogenic methane, but not biogenic octane.

Hilarious stuff! It says near the top of the page:

Communicated by Howard Reiss, University of California, Los Angeles, CA (received for review April 3, 2002)

Somebody mailed this in for an April Fools Day prank, likely assisted by biotic ethanol, yes? Clearly this was never intended for serious scientific discussion.
Good find, Khwarizmi, that’s some real funny biotic material!

Jerry Henson

Kadaka
The reason to dig through the topsoil is to get below the biological material from which methanogens could produce methane. In the topsoil, methanatropes ingest the methane, use the hydrogen for energy and excrete the carbon.
Very rich topsoil requires a very large amount of energy input to continue to be rich.
It does not “owe its richness to the byproduct of the richness”.
Richness of topsoil is not spontaneously generated. If it were, then areas such as the soil around Atlanta would be rich, but it is not.The granite shield is just under the surface, blocking most of the up welling methane and thus the energy supply which is required to build rich topsoil .
The deep life that you describe does not exist because it exists. It requires a food source. That original source is hydrocarbons.
Just as deep ocean “smoker” ecosystems are powered by up welling methane, so is topsoil.
I am new to blogs and it appears that I must learn how to post links on a blog. Please google “Deep-Sea Methane Ecosystem Found In Atlantic.
I believe that “spontaneous generation” has previously been disproved.
When you crush and heat kerogen bearing shale, you get kerogen, not oil.

jones

“but researchers say there’s no cause for alarm”
What kind of talk is that??!
Hm?

PeterF

It is obvious proof that someone is herding cattles in giant caves under the seabed. As we know, the methan comes from cattle farts. How else could one explain methane coming from down there? Hence this is proven now.
I guess it is Blofield, known from the James Bond movies. He had a liking for underwater establishments.