Abiotic methane discovered under the Arctic Ocean


Ultra-slow spreading ocean ridges were discovered in the Arctic in 2003 by scientists at Woods Hole Ocenographic Institution. They found that for large regions the sea floor splits apart by pulling up solid rock from deep within the earth. These rocks, known as peridotites (after the gemstone peridot) come from the deep layer of the earth known as the mantle. Credit Dr. Henry J.B. Dick, WHOI / nsf.gov

From CAGE – Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment

New source of methane discovered in the Arctic Ocean

Methane, a highly effective greenhouse gas, is usually produced by decomposition of organic material, a complex process involving bacteria and microbes.

But there is another type of methane that can appear under specific circumstances: Abiotic methane is formed by chemical reactions in the oceanic crust beneath the seafloor.

New findings show that deep water gas hydrates, icy substances in the sediments that trap huge amounts of the methane, can be a reservoir for abiotic methane. One such reservoir was recently discovered on the ultraslow spreading Knipovich ridge, in the deep Fram Strait of the Arctic Ocean. The study suggests that abiotic methane could supply vast systems of methane hydrate throughout the Arctic.

The study was conducted by scientists at Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate (CAGE) at UiT The Arctic Univeristy of Norway. The results were recently published in Geology online and will be featured in the journal’s May issue.

Previously undescribed

“Current geophysical data from the flank of this ultraslow spreading ridge shows that the Arctic environment is ideal for this type of methane production. ” says Joel Johnson associate professor at the University of New Hampshire (USA), lead author, and visiting scholar at CAGE.

This is a previously undescribed process of hydrate formation; most of the known methane hydrates in the world are fueled by methane from the decomposition of organic matter.

“It is estimated that up to 15 000 gigatonnes of carbon may be stored in the form of hydrates in the ocean floor, but this estimate is not accounting for abiotic methane. So there is probably much more.” says co-author and CAGE director Jürgen Mienert.

Life on Mars?

NASA has recently discovered traces of methane on the surface of Mars, which led to speculations that there once was life on our neighboring planet. But an abiotic origin cannot be ruled out yet.

On Earth it forms through a process called serpentinization.

“Serpentinization occurs when seawater reacts with hot mantle rocks exhumed along large faults within the seafloor. These only form in slow to ultraslow spreading seafloor crust. The optimal temperature range for serpentinization of ocean crust is 200 – 350 degrees Celsius.” says Johnson.

Methane produced by serpentinization can escape through cracks and faults, and end up at the ocean floor. But in the Knipovich Ridge it is trapped as gas hydrate in the sediments. How is it possible that relatively warm gas becomes this icy substance?

“In other known settings the abiotic methane escapes into the ocean, where it potentially influences ocean chemistry. But if the pressure is high enough, and the subseafloor temperature is cold enough, the gas gets trapped in a hydrate structure below the sea floor. This is the case at Knipovich Ridge, where sediments cap the ocean crust at water depths up to 2000 meters. ” says Johnson.

Stable for two million years

Another peculiarity about this ridge is that because it is so slowly spreading, it is covered in sediments deposited by fast moving ocean currents of the Fram Strait. The sediments contain the hydrate reservoir, and have been doing so for about 2 million years.

” This is a relatively young ocean ridge, close to the continental margin. It is covered with sediments that were deposited in a geologically speaking short time period -during the last two to three million years. These sediments help keep the methane trapped in the sea floor.” says Stefan Bünz of CAGE, also a co-author on the paper.

Bünz says that there are many places in the Arctic Ocean with a similar tectonic setting as the Knipovich ridge, suggesting that similar gas hydrate systems may be trapping this type of methane along the more than 1000 km long Gakkel Ridge of the central Arctic Ocean.

The Geology paper states that such active tectonic environments may not only provide an additional source of methane for gas hydrate, but serve as a newly identified and stable tectonic setting for the long-term storage of methane carbon in deep-marine sediments.

Need to drill

The reservoir was identified using CAGE’s high resolution 3D seismic technology aboard research ressel Helmer Hanssen. Now the authors of the paper wish to sample the hydrates 140 meters below the ocean floor, and decipher their gas composition.

Knipovich Ridge is the most promising location on the planet where such samples can be taken, and one of the two locations where sampling of gas hydrates from abiotic methane is possible.

” We think that the processes that created this abiotic methane have been very active in the past. It is however not a very active site for methane release today. But hydrates under the sediment, enable us to take a closer look at the creation of abiotic methane through the gas composition of previously formed hydrate.” says Jürgen Mienert who is exploring possibilities for a drilling campaign along ultra-slow spreading Arctic ridges in the future.



202 thoughts on “Abiotic methane discovered under the Arctic Ocean

      • Yes, and petroleum is right round the corner. The geologists “consensus” on fossil energy will be steamrolled like the global (AGW) warming BS,,,,

      • My thought has always been that oil and gas are abiotic. Oil and gas are continually produced from the recycling of rock and seawater through the mantle and back into crust. The only thing left is for someone to prove it.

      • The “Russians” are the ones that also gave us the misnomer “fossil fuels”. At least their scientists still challenge themselves.

        As a passing note, methane (CH4) is found littering the Solar System (and likely the Universe). Based some sort of wild speculated “consensus” that methane can only be formed by organics then Venus, Titan, etc., had simply gargantuan organic growths infesting those places.

      • cedarhill
        April 15, 2015 at 4:19 am
        “The “Russians” are the ones that also gave us the misnomer “fossil fuels”. At least their scientists still challenge themselves.”

        What gives you that idea? It was Rockefeller’s influence on a 1892 scientist convention in Geneva where it was decided that everything made up of C-O-H would be termed organic in origin.

      • Abiotic means heat, light and atmospheric gases? I guess one out of three isn’t bad. Its my understanding the methane exists as methane calthrates. And they are generated as daughter reactions from uranium and thorium that exists in our planet’s nuclear reactor core. Which is why we Russians theorized we will never run out of carbon fuels. Therefore we don’t need to buy GE’s high maintenance, uncompetitive windmills or Solyndra’s loser solar panels or other political payoff boondoggles.

      • Methane is the most basic molecular building block of all hydrocarbon gasses and liquids we collectively refer to as petroleum, It can be polymerized to make all of them.

        Yes, it appears the Russians (and Thomas Gold) were correct.

    • Thomas Gold’s classic book (written about 1999) “The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels”, is readily available in various forms, including Kindle. Tommy was an absolutely brilliant scientific thinker, and he is often offered as a definition of “thinking outside the box”. But that is not quite the right term, because he was not offering alternatives – he was offering BETTER explanations. His book is so well argued that there are few possible counter-arguments other than citing a consensus (not what we learned in “Earth Science” in the 9th grade). Sound familiar?

      • Few possible counter arguments, other than the entire field of petroleum geochemistry, and the fact that all the oil we produce can be traced back to and matched geochemically to a sedimentary source rock with a high biotic organic content.

      • Doug –

        Understood. But I feel you have not actually read Tommy’s book. You said:

        “…..matched geochemically to a sedimentary source rock with a high biotic organic content”

        which misses the point about the DEEP BIO-sphere (among many other excellent points).

        What you said does, however, exactly match a (the) “consensus” viewpoint.

      • Martin –

        Interesting that three people posting here: you, Joseph below, and myself, who hold Tommy Gold in such high regard, actually knew him personally. In 2003 he was very near to the end of his life, and that may have enhanced what you feel was bitterness. I had previously discussed with him how the book was going and he replied with (perhaps forced) bemusement that people who had not actually read the book were not persuaded. A great scientist, a fine gentleman, and for my wife and I, a friend and neighbor. Sadly missed. Among his few “equals” were his pal Freeman Dyson.

        Best regards – Bernie

      • Thomas Gold also co-authored the cosmological “Big Bang”. He actually intended it as ridicule, a sentiment I happen to share. I also share his belief that there is waaaay too much methane to be accounted for by all the biomass that ever lived.

      • Doug,

        I agree that most “fossil fuels” near the surface do indeed come from biological sources, but IMO that does not rule out the possibility of abiotic hydrocarbon at deeper levels, which could bubble up.

      • Doug, I suggest that you look up Fischer-Tropsch and steam reforming. You have a system here where there is water, carbonate, heat and pressure. Oh, that serpentinite process is fascinating. The chemistry is plausible.

        I have every reason to believe that oil and gas is derived from both aspects of carbon chemistry. Chemistry does not care what gets used to facilitate a reaction, only that the system meets the thresholds. Green plant, human plant or no plant, given reactants and proper conditions, you will get products.

    • I’ve never understood how come there is oil deep under the deep Atlantic off Brazil.

      • Please correct me if wrong, but my understanding is that, while deep & far offshore, the Brazilian fields still lie on the continental shelf.

      • Hydrocarbon source rock is best preserved in a restricted basin. Much of the oil off Brazil, and the counterparts offshore west Africa is from organic rich rocks deposited in the restricted basins formed during the early separation of the continents.

    • The obsession with clinging to dinosaur juice as the only significant source of oil is a branch of the same mind set as is the obsession with clinging to CO2 from human activity as the (or a) primary source of climate change. The need for an existential threat to justify government research grants demands it.
      Peak Oil, AGW, Asteroids, the Yellowstone Volcano, Extinction of Snail Darters,……the possibilities are endless!

  1. Well Abiotic methane could well become abiotic natural gas reserves that we can use. Who knows, it could even get fossilized and become abiotic oil reserves.

    Biotic or abiotic, we can use all the hydrocarbons we can find. And turning it from a “highly effective greenhouse gas” into a somewhat benign plant food, so it gets bioticized, would be a good thing for the planet as well as our energy supplies.

    • It does ad credence to the idea.
      If serpentinisation is demonstrate on a large enough scale to make commercial amounts of natural gas then…
      Well less oil is required to be commercially viable.

      • MCourtney April 14, 2015 at 12:50 pm

        “It does ad credence to the idea.”

        Nicely put, MCourtney. I suppose I should have written, “Next up for discussion, abiotic oil.”

        Abiotic oil is still in that infamous realm of “could, perhaps, suggests,” but down-thread, where geologic time is mentioned, perhaps the earth is just getting started on making some abiotic oil. Maybe it takes a billion years from the right starting conditions to make and move abiotic oil to where we can get at it, but then we don’t know where the geologic clock starts ticking on that billion years.

        The article provides a whiff of possibility, but the old standard holds true, “More study is needed.”

  2. I am a huge believer in the abiotic oil theory. How many millions of cubic meters of oil do we pump from the ground every year? Now imagine all that oil is composed of decayed organic matter. How many dead dinosaurs would we need to account for the MASS of all that oil?

    • I find a better way to frame the debate is to give them a choice…. either abiotic oil is real or we have proof beyond proof that life has be found on other planets…. tends to force them into a corner real quick. Most of all it cuts out the huge amount of preplanned propaganda and talking points they have ready to say we’re “doomed”.

    • Zero dead dinosaurs. Now plankton on the other hand, it would take several hundred million years to create that much oil. You must first try to understand geologic time to fathom the idea of oil generation and migration over time.

      • When generally speaking everything can “turn into oil”. If we look to our green fore-fathers they used to make completely organic and 100% renewable oils…. Used to call them whalers hehe. Another fun topic to bring up to the eco-terrorists. That said their is a reason why 99.9% of species are extinct and that is a lot of dead stuff which can turn into oil, coal, etc. Much like everything involved in this topic… lots of computers models and claims have always and likely will always be wrong for a good 100+ years on the topic of oil left.

      • We’re talking about the planet Earth, not some moon millions of miles away. This specific post is also about oil, not gas. There may be some rare natural hydrocracking process operating in nature but it absolutely without a doubt does not explain 99.999% of oil.

      • “RWturner
        April 14, 2015 at 1:57 pm

        We’re talking about the planet Earth, not some moon millions of miles away. This specific post is also about oil, not gas. There may be some rare natural hydrocracking process operating in nature but it absolutely without a doubt does not explain 99.999% of oil.”

        So your admitting oil is abiotic…. hehe nice to be so honest about.

      • Most of our oil is less than several hundred million years old. A few million is all you need to deposit the source. It then can sit around for a long time.

      • Better take a look at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s hydrothermal reactor, which produces crude oil from plankton in less than on hour. The “geologically necessary” time turns out to be just the rate of burial in a normal sedimentary basin.

    • Just so were clear, the bionic origin of oil is well understood and has ample evidence to support it. Abiotic oil theory, not so much.

      • The popular conflation of logical domains is an obstacle to development of scientific knowledge and skill.

        The biotic theory of oil production has ample circumstantial (e.g. inference, correlation) evidence to support it. The reality may be that there are multiple processes that produce oil. Then the question becomes — for purposes of ecological and energy development — which is dominant.

      • ” n.n
        April 14, 2015 at 1:18 pm

        Then the question becomes — for purposes of ecological and energy development — which is dominant.”

        I think this is an important and often overlooked question. I can remember in HS asking teachers why oil isn’t considered renewable since it does in fact get renewed. Even if you completely believe all oil is formed by Biotic means… we have a huge planet always forming oil. Yes it maybe slow…. however the planet is huge.

        I’d love to see a study where one compares the renewal rate of oil over the whole of the planet vs say solar power…. I would wager big money that not only if you expanded solar unrealistically to 100x its current amount… you still based on ROI would only be getting 1/1,000,000th of a return vs renewal oil. If oil can be label as non-renewable then solar power should be as well.

      • Every single oil field that I know of has had the origin of the oil traced back to a source rock through vitrinite reflectance. All of these source rocks are highly organic-rich sedimentary rocks. That is empirical evidence.

      • That’s actually very simple to count renewal rate of biotic oil. We are using oil for around 50 years and there are reserves for around 50 years of oil. It was deposited in around 500 million years. So theoretically we in 100 years we will consume everything created in 500 million years. That means that biotic renewal rate of oil is 1/5,000,000 of our current consumption rate. Unless it isn’t….

      • @RWturner April 14, 2015 at 1:09 pm

        Just so were clear, the bionic origin of oil is well understood and has ample evidence to support it. Abiotic oil theory, not so much.

        On the contrary. Oil formation from organic detritus was never demonstrated under lab conditions. The process is said to be too slow for that. However, only a tiny little fraction of organic material has high enough chemical potential to turn into alkanes in any amount of time. The rest have too much Oxygen in it and there is no way to get rid of it in the crust. Also, alkanes are metastable on crustal pressures, they never form from methane spontaneously, it is thermodynamically unfavorable.

        On the other hand on high pressure &. temperature a simple mix of limestone, water and ferrous oxide spontaneously transforms into lime milk, ferric oxide and oil. This process was demonstrated in the lab using diamond anvils.

        The pressure needed is that of diamond formation, which occurs at depths of a hundred miles or so.

        Also, tiny mineral oil inclusions are plentiful in some diamonds. There is no way biotic oil could get there.

        In some oils there is a spoonful of diamondoid stuff dissolved in each gallon, nanodiamonds, basically. Their formation from organic compounds on medium pressure is thermodynamically unfavorable, so it does not happen. Higher polymantanes beyond trimantane were never even synthesized under lab conditions, their only source is mineral oil. The stuff is valuable, but it can also clog or erode pipes.

        Alkanes had to rise into the crust from the upper mantle quite quickly, otherwise they would have been turned into methane, the only stable hydrocarbon at ordinary pressure. The case, again, is similar to that of diamonds, which turn into graphite if pressure &. temperature is decreased slowly.

        And, of course, source of Helium, abundant in some natural gas deposits, is necessarily abiotic, because the element is not found in organic compounds, not even in any other chemical compound for that matter, because it is a noble gas.

        Source of so called bio-tracers found in mineral oil is easily explained as remnants of bacteria feeding on abiotic oil upwelling from the mantle.

        Maturation of source rocks, a concept used in biotic oil formation theory, is extremely ill defined.

        So no, I do not think the Ukrainian theory of deep abiotic oil formation is dead.

      • ” However, only a tiny little fraction of organic material has high enough chemical potential to turn into alkanes in any amount of time.”
        That nails it. Geologists and petroleum engineers don’t study chemical potential. Hydrocarbons can only exist as coal or methane. And if it is methane, there better be a lot of CO2 present to make it biotic in origin. You also want to see some nitrogen present.

        Now when you find wet natural gas with large amounts of higher MW alkanes with zero CO2, you are talking about abiotic gas. But if you admit higher MW alkanes can be abiotic, then you’ve just allowed abiotic crude.

        The other interesting observation is that the “hydrocarbon window” (again, not based on chemical potential), keeps extending deeper. Look how deep Macondo was, and there are deeper wells.

      • Okay, believe whatever crackpot theories on oil generation you want because it doesn’t really matter. Those of us that are actually involved in finding oil will stick with the theories that have worked for a hundred years.

      • RW –

        You “endorsed” (at minimum, urged consideration of) a position that for something to be alive it had to have “meditation and consciousness”. And you use the term “crackpot theory” for what someone else says!

      • To all those who scoff at abiotic oil theory:
        Go here, http://www.gasresources.net/ read and digest and think. The headings on the right side of the web page are where all the logic and interest lie. There is a lot to read, but in my opinion it is well worth the investment to know a bit more about something not generally known.

        Steve T
        Be skeptical.

      • Where did I say that “for something to be alive it had to have “meditation and consciousness.” You clearly misconstrued what was said. Scientific investigation into meditation was stifled by dismissal for a very long time but finally the topic is no longer taboo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw71zanwMnY

        The abiotic oil theory was not dismissed at first and it was actually put to the test. Many Russian (and probably other) scientists have explored for oil on the theory that it is abiotically generated within the Earth. Guess how that worked out for them. Find me an oil field that was not sourced from biotic oil, then I’ll take your consideration of resurrecting a long dead (and for good reason) theory serious.

      • RW –

        I (April 14, 3:45 PM) of course only quoted you as saying what I actually placed within quote marks, the “meditation and consciousness” which you had previously posted. (Actually you have an unpaired quotation mark which confuses your complaint.) You (April 14 at 2:26 PM) were offering support for one Alan Robertson (April 14, 1:52 MP) who was clearly suggesting consciousness as a defining feature of being alive (he said “Life also has consciousness.”).

        Please clarify if you care to.

    • I assume you’re kidding, since oil isn’t formed by dead & decaying dinosaurs. Most fossil fuel deposits were laid down in the Carboniferous & Permian Periods, before dinosaurs existed.

      Most biotic oil is from bacteria. Some coal is from decaying plant matter, possibly with some animals & fungi thrown in.

      I don’t rule out abiotic oil & natural gas.

      • Nor do I and this discovery just adds to the proof of abiotic oil. It wasn’t long ago, that an article appeared in WUWT which spoke of massive amounts of water bound up in rocks close to the bottom of Earth’s mantle… we have no idea about what’s really going on with this planet.

      • I live in western Colorado, where we have a lot of coal seams. Hiking last year, I found a chunk of a tree stump in a coal seam, freed it and took it home. It weighs 40-50 pounds and is coal, very cool. I found it at 7000 feet, so it’s been a long time since it was alive.

      • “Most biotic oil is from bacteria.”
        So we should get edible oil from bacteria cultures today, not from olives, sesame, linseed then.
        We’re obviously doing it wrong.

    • There are three major types of methane produced in nature. First, abiotic methane which is generated as described above. Second, Biogenic methane, or methane generated by bacteria in the groundwater table. Biogenic gas is why Josh Fox could light water on fire in his propaganda film Gasland. Number three is thermogenic methane, or methane generated by the geothermal heating of Kerogen rich rocks. Thermogenic methane is what created the “Lion’s share” of producible natural gas. (A fourth has been proposed; Mantle outgassing, but the evidence is thin.)
      Oil is a different story though. There is zero evidence produced anywhere, ever, that corroborates abiotic oil. There is only one way, currently known, for generating oil and that is Thermogenic generation. I could go into excruciating detail of all the different types of Kerogen, their formation, and thermal maturation, but I’ll only do it if you are truly interested. Shale oil and Shale gas is the direct result of the application of Themogenic generation theory.

      • Absence of evidence does not mean impossible. I believe science advances by questioning what is considered accepted. I am not willing to say oil can be formed by abiotic means, but I am also not willing to say it cannot. I will say our present understanding precludes an abiotic source. I will also say that we need to keep asking questions and keep researching. This applies to a great many things, not just the topic at hand.

        As an example of how absence of evidence does not mean impossible, consider the miasma theory. At one time we had no evidence of germs causing sickness. We did have evidence that when people were exposed to bad smelling air they developed cholera. Some good came from it, cities had to install proper sanitation. But when scientists were allowed to question what was accepted that they fully realized it was the germs from improper sanitation that was causing sickness, not the foul air.

        WUWT is a sight that allows anti-consensus scientific views. We should be welcoming that. It is okay to have rational discussions and say someone is wrong. But we should all be willing to say we are wrong too.

    • Not a single one. Oil is no more from dinosaurs than coal is. Marine and lacustrine algae made most of it.

    • Matt,

      “decayed organic matter” isn’t thought to be “dead dinosaurs”, but dead plant matter, largely algae. So, ask yourself the question “How many millions of bushels of seed (and pollen) do the worlds grasslands produce?” to help you understand the mass of organic material extant in the world.


      • ?????

        My response above at 9:36 was a reply to Matt April 14, 2015 at 12:30 pm

        I don’t know how it got way down here.


  3. It doesn’t matter it wills still be all our fault according to the religious dictates of the greens.

  4. Abiotic methane and ethane covers Saturn’s moon Titan. The ESA probe Huygen’s released from the NASA orbiter Cassini took these pictures of Titan’s surface. The temperature of the landing site in around 94 K, cryogenic ethane and methane. Slightly warmer liquid Methane seas slosh around, Ethane ice rains from the skies at times.

    The Earth was anoxic, with a reducing atmosphere until around 2.3 – 1.7 Gya, when oxygen began appearing from likely biologic photosynthetic life. At this point, the Earth had already been around over 2 Billion years, and tectonic process surely buried vast amounts of abiotic hydrocarbons.

    They are still there today, with some fraction having seeped up to form at least the methane hydrates on the sea floors and even deeper in the crust. The evidence for them is on Titan.

    • If you can have ethane, then you can have propane, butane, pentane, hey, we’ve got crude oil.

      • JamesD,

        Those chemicals are refined from crude oil, but that does not mean ethane, et al equal crude oil.


  5. If methane exists on Saturn’s moon Titan where no fossils or forests exist, why not on Earth by similar processes?

    ‘Measurements of a big sea on Titan, a moon of Saturn, show that it contains about 9,000 cubic km of mostly liquid methane. This huge volume is equivalent, say scientists, to about 40 times the proven reserves of oil and gas on Earth. The extraordinary thing is that Ligeia Mare is only the second largest hydrocarbon sea on Titan.’


    • The first time I discussed the hydrocarbon seas of Titan & the possibility of life forms developing within them, for some strange reason Willis attacked my comments as unscientific.

      I’m glad that Titan can now be discussed without such outbursts.

      • Milodonharlani,
        I would attack (with data on biochemistry) your comments on life forms developing there too. Liquid water seems to be the key factor is development of the necessary biochemistry of anything we would think of as a self-replicating molecular machine (life). Liquid water is far beyond any physical possibility on Titan.

      • As a follow-up to my comment above, that is not to say liquid water does not exist on some of the Jovian or Saturnian moons. Clearly, there is strong evidence of a vast deep briny water ocean under a thick layer of ice on Europa.


        NASA would love to build a robotic drilling probe to land there and send a probe (somehow) through the ice to see what is there in the water. Currently the technology for such a mission does not exist.

      • Joel,

        Actual evidence exists supporting the hypothesis of liquid hydrocarbon-based life. It’s not conclusive, but suggestive. Other explanations are possible for the observations supporting the hypothesis:


        Besides which, liquid water may well exist on Titan, as on other gas giant moons, below its icy crust.

        Naturally, NASA has an interest in promoting the idea of life on Titan. Still, to dismiss its desire to explore this possibility as unscientific is IMO anti-scientific.

        We have only one instance of life so far, which is indeed based upon water. But there is no reason to suppose that only water can provide a liquid medium for life. The other requirements for life also exist on Titan, ie its constituent chemical parts & energy sources.

      • Pardon, Joel, but life is much more than self- replicating bio- machines. Life also has consciousness, although I’m trailing off into philosophy, here. According to the mystics of all religions, consciousness also exists beyond the bounds of what we would define as life.

      • Joel,

        As you may know, besides Europa, liquid water also may exist below the surfaces of Jupiter’s big moon Ganymede (probably oceans stacked in layers) & smaller Callisto (possibly) and Saturn’s large Titan & little Enceladus.

      • milodoharlani,

        I went to that link you posted. The author a little ways down even admits that the possibility of life on Titan is “pure conjecture” (his words).
        Simply, the thermodynamics of molecular interactions at 80 K -100 K just makes the kinds of molecular thermodynamics, that occurs in all Earth life molecular interactions and chemical reactions, so amazingly slow (orders of magnitude) it is hard to see how complex molecular machines could be built.

        Earth’s evolved ribozymes and protein enzymes work through the thermalized “brownian” motions of vibrational interactions between 270K to 370K. Molecular interactions bio-enzymatic at 100K would be many orders of magnitude slower simply due to the thermodynamics and available energy to overcome molecular bond-breaking energy barriers. No warm spots (>100K) have ever been detected on Titan’s surface.

        All the experiments that biochemists and nuclear acid scientists have done on early life chemical processes involve inject of high energy events, such as lightning, ocean hot thermal vents, warm UV irradiated sunlit pools of liquid water, etc. These folks do the hard molecular cehmical bond breaking, rearranging, bond making thermodynamic calculations at 300 K. Talk to them about 100 K, and you’d just get a laugh from those who understand how amazingly slow any enzymatically-driven chemical reactions would become at that temperature.

        So life on Titan. Sure possible. But pure speculation, with it being very unclear to anyone how it would work, or even if we would recognize it and distinguish it from abiotic chemical reactions at 90 K.

      • Joel,

        It’s conjecture based upon an observation. Subsequent observations have added more support. For the reasons you cite, I’d personally be surprised to find life forms in hydrocarbon lakes and seas on Titan, but I object to NASA’s interest in investigating the possibility being dismissed out of hand as unscientific (not that I’m sympathetic to NASA as is now).

        More familiar forms of life in subterranean (if that’s the right word for extraterrestrial worlds) oceans of moons of the gas giants, to include Titan, however is another matter.

        For that matter, it’s entirely possible for life to have developed in the pockets of liquid water within ice. Indeed RNA self-assembles from its components under such conditions.

      • Joel, your points about thermodynamics are very good.

        Another point to add is that all of life, including anaerobic life, requires an electron transport gradient for energy production.

        We all get to use oxygen as our terminal electron acceptor. Anaerobes use nitrate, or nitrite, or sulfate. But they need something. Unless the hydrocarbon seas on Titan have something like lots of amylnitrite floating around, I don’t see the possibility of powering a metabolism.

        And, as you already pointed out, that metabolism would have to operate at 94 K — a very unlikely possibility. That’s above the melting point of only the smallest hydrocarbons. Everything else is an icy solid.

        We could all be surprised, of course. But any life on Titan would have to power itself by some very strange cold-active hydrocarbon-soluble metabolism. Or be confined to some deeper warmer region.

    • If Because vast amounts of methane exists on Saturn’s moon Titan where no fossils or forests existed, why not on Earth by similar processes?

      Exactly, but with some minor edits.

      • Joel, the hydrocarbons on Titan are probably primordial, i.e., products from condensation of the moon itself. Earth condensed at about 1000 K. The earliest Earth had no volatiles.

      • Joel, from above you write:
        “So life on Titan. Sure possible. But pure speculation…”
        Thomas Gold’s suggestion was that life did not start ON the Earth but IN the Earth. Nice and snuggly warm IN Titan perhaps?

      • Comets or something delivered a vast amount of volatiles to Earth during the hypothesized “heavy Bombardment Period”. Water, methane, some ethane, ammonia must have poured “like a fire-hydrant on a mouse” onto Earth. Venus and Mars got some water, but we got most of it. Why?
        But it happened… the stuff we believe comets are made of in the outer solar system came to Earth.

        Our Solar system exited a Star forming incubator 4.6 Gya ago. By 4.1. Gya, there may have been likely other protostars-systems nearby to provide gravity perturbations to kick the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt objects to rain comets on the inner planets. Something (likely Saturn) kept Jupiter from wandering inward and kicking us to the cold ISM. During that time. The icy moons of those gas giants inherited copious amounts of water and methane too, like you said, probably primordial.

        Trying to get back to thread topic… the methanes (and ethanes) on Titan are proof that hydrocarbons existed in our solar system at the time of birth… they are abiotic. Those moons also have copious water. Earth has copious water… thus the Earth likely received copious amounts of hydrocarbons too when we got our water.
        Earth was anoxic for at least 2 billion years. That’s enough time for tectonics to deeply bury vast amounts of both water and hydrocarbon.

        (note: exploding superheavy supernova stars spew out vast amounts of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, along with iron and other “metals” from neutron-bombardment nucleosynthesis in the collapsing star’s shock shell that sends shockwave’s into the nebular gas of star forming regions…. our solar system’s stellar nursery. Much of the ionized carbon and oxygen would eventually find free hydrogens to form H2O, and CH4, and some NH3.)

        We know an ocean’s worth of water forms hydrates with the minerals at the lithosphere boundary, thus decreasing viscosity by at least 2 orders of magnitude, that along with tidal energy and radioactive core heat flow, is enough to keep Earth’s tectonics and geomagnetism moving now for 4.5+ Gya. While Mars’s tectonics and magnetism froze in place within the first 1 Gya.

        It is reasonable to assume that vast amounts of hydrocarbons got buried very deep along with the water by tectonics (mainly subduction) in those first 2 Gya. A fraction of these hydrocarbons may seep up still to this day. But distinguishing that from serpentine hydrocarbons, and biotic-origin hydrocarbons is the real question.

    • Alan Robertson,
      I won’t go there. You can. Be my guest.
      And then you might as well start talking about midi-chlorians and the Force with that kind of sci-fi what-ifs.

      • Well, then I’ll just stop at- life is much more than self- replicating bio- machines- and call it a day. I don’t care what you believe.

      • So many people are afraid to delve into meta-physical discussions. You should at least be open minded and read some of the science research regarding meditation and consciousness to gain a little insight into what Alan is speaking of.

        Just remember “Up to the Twentieth Century, reality was everything humans could touch, smell, see, and hear. Since the initial publication of the chart of the electromagnetic spectrum, humans have learned that what they can touch, smell, see, and hear is less than one-millionth of reality….” R. B. Fuller

      • to RW Turner

        Alan Robertson said in part April 14, 2015 at 1:52 pm:
        “Pardon, Joel, but life is much more than self- replicating bio- machines. Life also has consciousness, although I’m trailing off into philosophy, here. ”

        and you said in part April 14, 2015 at 2:26 pm:
        “So many people are afraid to delve into meta-physical discussions. You should at least be open minded and read some of the science research regarding meditation and consciousness to gain a little insight into what Alan is speaking of.”

        So – RW – in light of your defense of a new definition of life, how are we to define “abiotic” – which is the main topic here.

    • The composition is very different. Titan lake is mostly methane (C1) with small amouts of ethane, (C2), Propane (C3) and even butane (C4). The composition of petroleum on Earth is different, the alkanes found in crude oil range from pentane (C5) to chains up to 40 carbon atoms (C40). These long molecules can be formed in biological processes, It is not that clear how can these molecules can be formed abiotically.

      • This article was specifically addressing methane hydrates under the sea bed in deposit structures. Forming longer Carbon chains from that to get to petroleum, or even propane is not something I would suggest or understand. Hydrolyzing those protons with a very strong base in high temps-pressures without any molecular oxygen present for many millions of years seems unlikely. Volcanic-magmatic events tend to be acidic (proton donating, rather than proton accepting).

      • Crude oil has the lower MW hydrocarbons. It’s called associated gas. I don’t know of any biological processes that make butane.

    • oldbrew April 14, 2015 at 1:16 pm

      “If methane exists on Saturn’s moon Titan where no fossils or forests exist, why not on Earth by similar processes?”

      What process creates the methane on Titan?


      • Can’t be sure, but is not Titan pretty close to Saturn, by astronomical standards, and what is Saturn’s atmosphere mostly composed of?
        by extension if the earth condensed from solar debris, as is commonly thought would not Methane and other hydrocarbons be part of the mix from day one?

  6. It seems like there was some major confusion in the science-to press release translation. Abiotic gas through serpentization or any other abiotic process is so small that it is negligible.

    I think they are confusing abiotic with thermogenic. There is thermogenic gas and biogenic gas. Thermogenic gas is produced through a slow heating/burial process where organic matter is converted into kerogen which is then converted into petroleum then gas is produced through thermal cracking. Thermogenic gas can then migrate to the surface through faults and fractures where it can contribute to methane hydrate in this case.

    All hydrocarbons discovered to date have their origins traced back to this process. We are now even producing significant hydrocarbons from the source rocks themselves, which of course are sedimentary deposits with high total organic composition.

      • Nope, Methane is a very small molecule, It is similar to water in the sense that you don’t need to explain how all the water on Earth has been formed. It has been there since the formation of Earth or it came via meteorites. Same happens with methane, the simplest explanation is that it was there since the formation of Titan.

        High chain hidrocarbons, on the other hand need a formation process.

    • I suppose they are referring only to abiotic gas in this study. It will be interesting to see what the ratio of biogenic:thermogenic:abiotic is in these deposits.

      • RWturner:
        I think they’re referring to water action on carbide inclusions – notably iron carbide.
        End products – methane (mostly) and magnetite.

    • Just curious, but if Kerogen is “cracked” into methane, where does the extra hydrogen come from? Can you give even a tentative formula for the chemical reaction? Is the chemistry at those extreme pressures and temperatures even investigated?

      • Kerogen is a mixture and doesn’t have a specific formula. A source of hydrogen is not needed in thermal cracking, you are referring specifically to hydrocracking.

        “Is the chemistry….even investigated?” We have refineries don’t we? The temperatures and pressures involved are not extreme in the grand scheme of things, we’re talking about the top 1% of the crust where these reactions take place naturally.


      • Thanks RW –

        I understood “cracking” as chopping a long C chain somewhere in the middle and putting on extra hydrogens to make a proper lighter hydrocarbon molecule. If this is done deep in the ground, I was just asking where the hydrogens come from – water? I really don’t know.

        I believe that the chemistry a km or so down would be quite different from a refinery on the surface. If anything, the kerogen would be more stable at those vastly higher pressures. So I am asking if there are any lab experiments at the corresponding temperatures and pressures. Of is it just theory?

      • Kerogen is a component of organic rich rocks and in oil shales there is enough of it to generate oil. It is a natural process that occurs completely within the oil shale itself with a little heat (50-200 C), pressure, and a very long time. All natural crude oil is traced back to these oil shales which are referred to as source rocks. We can even extract oil directly from the source rocks themselves, I don’t know what evidence you are looking for to call it more than “just theory.” Petroleum geology is an applied science, it’s based on tangible evidence.

        I do not know the specific chemistry involved but there is always your favorite literature search engine if you’re interested. If water is involved it’s probably in the dewatering of the shale as it compresses and loses its connate water.

  7. Maybe this stuff is M. Sally’s co2 source. It would not have C14, just like anthropo Co2 (methane oxidizes when it evolves into the ATMOSPHERE – think Bermuda triangle) .

    • Could account for at least some of Salby’s hypothesized, unaccounted for CO2 source.

    • Biologically derived CO2 is slightly elevated in C12, as enzyme reactions thermodynamically favor (very slightly) the lighter form of carbon (C12 over C13) in the reaction processes. This very slight preference for C12 in making nucleic acids, sugars, and lipid molecules leads to the isotopic ratio difference between organic-sourced CO2 and inorganic-sourced CO2, with this C13/C12 ratio difference measurable in a sample by mass spectrometry. Which of course provides clues as the origin of sample. But again, those clues are based on assumptions, that in some cases may be incorrect, leading to wrong conclusions. That’s what science is though – a continual learning, adjusting, new paradigm creating process.

      C14 is of course made in the upper atmosphere by cosmic ray bombardment processes. C14 half-life is ~5,700 years. C14 that makes it into organic molecules thus become completely undetectable after less than 100K years. Methane hydrates on the ocean floor or buried in sediments have been there for millions, if not billions of years.

      • True, of course, but some more recently produced abiotic methane may leak constantly. This issue has arisen over the methane detected on Mars.

      • Joel – good comment

        True the decrement in C13 in living stuff. Tommy Gold mentions that this is of course due to the fact that C12 diffuses faster into living cells. Likewise he says that slower diffusion of C13 from a deep abiotic source means that C13 transits the “pipeline” slower and has a greater chance of oxidation and removal from the pools above. Same cause – same result.

      • As an aside, I note that carbon-containing inclusions in zircons from Western Australia, U/Pb dated to 4.2 billion years, have the C12/C13 ratio characteristic of photosynthesis.

  8. As far as the abiogenic oil theory goes, I like best the way Wikipedia mangles the logic. “Scientific opinion on the origin of fossil fuels is that almost all fossil fuels on earth are not abiogenic in origin”. Which sounds remarkably stupid in the same way that climate fear mongers claim that we skeptics don’t believe in climate change. A) We most certainly do believe in climate change, we just don’t think that human activity has much to do with and B) we all agree that fossil fuels are mostly from fossils except that we don’t think that calling them fossil fuels is correct when they may be abiotic instead. And furthermore, the evidence for abiotic oil is limited for the same reason that modern climate change is attributed to human activity. As Upton Sinclair nailed it: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

  9. It’s not unheard of for thermogenesis gas to be created on oceanic crust. It has certainly occurred on both sides of the Atlantic. But I wouldn’t get too excited about it as a commercial methane source. Scare stories to the contrary, it is very difficult to get methane hydrate to dissociate at anything like a commercial rate, because dissociation is an endothermic reaction.

  10. If all that methane was to be released, AGW would cause the earths surface to rise to 2000 degrees centigrade and we’d all fry.

    • Paul,
      When the sun balloons into a Red giant in 5 Gya, the Earth’s surface will rise to about 4000 K, then we’d all fry.

      The latter WILL happen one day, but your former total sudden methane release is very, very, very unlikely to ever happen, even in 5 GYa. But even then it would probably be only around 800º C, like Venus.

      You can take the plastic sheets off your bed now and sleep easy tonight.

      • I don’t know who is saying what here whether it is Paul or Joel, or whether we are talking 2,000 deg. C or 4,000 K.

        I’m not sure just why stars turn into red giants, but it seems to me, that if say the sun maintained its present total energy output, but increased in diameter by a factor of four, to say 1.75 million miles radius, it would have 16 times the surface area, for the same total energy output, so its surface Temperature would be cut in half to about 2880 K, instead of 5760 K, but that solar surface would be about 1.32 million miles closer to earth, which is not a big effect.

        The TSI would drop by about a factor of 16, so earth would get pretty damn cold.

        So just when does this great roast kick in.

        A further factor of four expansion, would seem to demand another factor of two Temperature drop.

        But why is it expanding instead of contracting ? It seems that if the hydrogen burning process stops (fusion) that gravitational collapse would take over, and things would get smaller and hotter, rather than colder and bigger.

        This is where Sci Am used to be very informative on how the stars evolve, but I can’t remember when I last saw any such article.

        Probably Leif has his nose too close to the grind stone to elucidate.

      • George,

        A synopsis of the life story of a star in the class of our sun:


        The issue for earth is whether its new orbit farther out, due to lowered gravitational attraction, will take us far enough to avoid being engulfed when the sun goes red giant.

        But even if earth isn’t vaporized, thanks to orbiting about where Mars is now, its surface would still be inhospitable to life.

  11. The “Oh, but…” crowd will still be telling us that we are nearing peak hydrocarbons due to recovery costs involved with future discoveries. Technology has made liars of the naysayers, my whole life. Gasoline is about the same price now, as it was when I was in high school, in the 60’s, when allowing for inflation.

    • If you look up the price of gasoline in the USA in 1935, and do an adjustment for inflation since, (a future-value calculation) you will get an equivalent price somewhere around U$3.80 per gallon. Motor fuel has gotten cheaper over the past 80 years due to lower production costs and greater availability.

  12. joelobryan
    April 14, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Sorry, Joel, I’ve enjoyed and looked for your comments, but in this case, you’re wrong. Subsurface liquid water probably (almost certainly) does exist on Titan.


    If you consider the hypothesis of life on Titan unscientific, please let NASA and researchers such as Cornell’s Dr. Lunine know that they are wasting their time.


    He presented further evidence for life on Titan at the American Chemical Society meeting in 2013.



    • Jonathan Lunine with Cornell University and a participant in the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Saturn’s moon Titan presented new evidence that life could exist or be in the process of forming on Titan at the Sept. 12, 2013, session of the annual Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

      There is a big difference between ‘evidence for life on Titan’ and ‘evidence that life could exist or be in the process of forming…

      • Oil COULD ONLY be biotic in natural… However we are always told it can only be not it could only be… and if oil can’t be abiotic in natural then THEIR MUST BE LIFE ON titan…. its a simple if/then statement.

        A simpler if/then statement would be if oil can only be biotic and only from dinosaurs then if we find oil on mars we have proven that mars had dinosaurs on it.

        These types of if/then statements are great for throwing a monkey wrench into cultists thinking because by their very thought process they must accept things that are unproven in the real world as proven fact as part of they’re religion.

      • Yes I got that same itch.

        So far as I know, in the search for extra-terrestrial life; intelligent or not, outside a shell of maybe +/- 30 km about MSL on planet earth ; and not having originated from within that shell, the sum total of all available scientific observational evidence, has not yet reached just one single binary digit of total data (peer reviewed of course).

        So maybe lots of “could be” or wannabee speculation, but no actual observations.

        Carl Sagan and his Drake’s equation buddies, left a great legacy of no achievement behind them for their grand children.

        I suspect that the search for controlled thermonuclear fusion energy will produce a similar amount of life wasting failures.

      • George,

        Why would you suppose that the same conditions on another world that support life on earth would not support life there?

        Life is chemistry and physics. Two worlds in the same universe obeying the same physical laws should produce similar results.

        Until we send specifically life-searching probes to good candidate abodes of life in our own star system, no accounting of the probability of life is possible. So far however, it’s 100%, based upon earth.

        Life may well be not only possible but inevitable under the right conditions, ie a liquid medium, an energy source and the requisite constituent parts (which abound throughout the universe). There is no reason to imagine that earth is unique, although its combination of features permitting complex organisms to evolve could be rare in our galaxy.

      • “””””…..
        Catherine Ronconi

        April 14, 2015 at 4:45 pm


        Why would you suppose that the same conditions on another world that support life on earth would not support life there?

        Life is chemistry and physics. Two worlds in the same universe obeying the same physical laws should produce similar results……”””””

        Never supposed any such thing Catherine.

        So take your thesis: Life CAN exist on earth, ergo life should exist on earth; it’s just Chemistry and Physics.

        We humans are so smart; intelligent carbon life forms.

        Yet despite all that smarts, and despite years of trying, nobody so far has succeeded in performing the chemistry and physics right here in the “ahem” Goldilocks Zone and creating life out of rocks. Yet life is so abundant here it would seem to be near impossible to not make life out of rocks, here in the perfect place for that to happen.

        Now I fully believe that life DID start here on earth from nothing but rocks; but actually on an earth not at all like the garden of eden we now have; and I’m not into intelligent design, as I have often stated, the story doesn’t show me any intelligence applied to the process.

        So we are unable to make life in a place that is supposedly ideal, yet it must be all over the place elsewhere.

        How does that work ??

        Maybe, the improbability of the correct sequence of chemical syntheses necessary to get from the rocks and water and atmosphere to self proclaimed intelligent carbon life forms, happening is every bit as large as the multitude of Goldilocks planets on which for it to occur.

        Zero times infinity isn’t necessarily one; it might still be near zero.

        Stars as we know form, untouched by human hands. Very difficult to stop one from happening, because Gravity sucks. So there are gazillions of them.

        Gravity cannot create life.

    • CCatherine,
      correction noted. I had not heard or read of a suspected deep ocean under a shell of frozen hydrates on Titan. Learned something. Still liquid water on or near the surface is not likely, and the thickness of that ice shell and temperatures makes in situ sampling of the brine quite unlikely for a very long time, if ever. Until then all just resides in the realm of speculation, as abiotic chemical processes could explain the hydrogen and acetylene cycling.

      • Sampling won’t be done for a long time, if ever, deep on Titan, but if life arose on earth around deep sea vents, then why not on Titan as well, rich as it is in the requisite compounds?

        I personally doubt that life arose here in “hell” (thermal vents), rather than “heaven” (a warm soup) or in ice, but it could have done so. There’s also the possibility that life arrived here on comets or meteors, in which case its presence on other bodies in the solar system would perhaps be even more likely.

        Amino acids and other complex organic compounds abound in meteorites.

        You’re welcome and thanks again.

      • Catherine,
        Thanks. I learned more today about Titan than I had in 10 years since the Huygens landing.
        And agree with you on the origins of Earth’s life. Warm, UV-illuminated brine soups or even fresh water around mineral-laden hot spring geysers seems to be a more likely place for Earth’s life origins.

        BTW: I subscribe to the Rare Earth Hypothesis. The fact that Earth has much more mass, a large moon (a twin planet), and copious water compared to Mars, suggests to me life originated here.

        Thanks again,

      • By the way Catherine.

        Please stack my Thanks along with those of others here.

        Whatever sources of info you are wired into, I for one appreciate that you are happy to share them with us.

        I find I learn best from those who are smarter than I am.


      • Joel and George,

        My thanks to you both for your many excellent comments, providing both information and trenchant questions.

        It’s too bad that NASA is so busy promoting Muslim scientific contributions to be able to afford another mission to Titan.

    • George (and Joel in part),

      I happen to subscribe to the ice school of thought, rather than Darwin’s warm little pond with salts vision or the organic soup. Others think that clay or iron pyrite pits in undersea vent material catalyzed the development of life from self-assembling organic compounds. But to me, the best evidence so far in favor of ice is the observation that RNA assembles within the watery pockets inside ice. There, it also replicates itself while assembling peptides by the same mechanism.

      The property of RNA both to replicate itself and catalyze protein assembly makes it the likeliest candidate for both the genetic code and metabolic enzyme of early life. Besides self-assembly in ice, RNA also forms spontaneously by attachment to stacks of PAHs, which substances abound in the universe. The separation distance between bases in the ribose chain happens to be the same as that between adjacent PAH rings. Coincidence? I think not.

      So in effect, science can be pretty sure now in general how life arose, but not necessarily where or when, nor the precise details of how. Some steps still remain unresolved.

      As to why life has not reemerged on earth, IMO it can’t, life already being here. The constituent parts of possible new cells would be rapidly consumed.

      As to whether life emerged here or landed here from space, I’m also agnostic. If you think that it would take billions of years for life to develop, then space becomes a likelier nursery. I don’t think it takes that long under the right conditions, so am inclined toward earth as the cradle of living things here, but can’t rule out delivery by comet or meteor.

      In any case, there is nothing special about earth as an incubator. I would agree however that it is probably an unusually stable planet and rare in having surface liquid water, so that the development of multicellular organisms, let alone macroscopic, hard-bodied, intelligent ones, has been possible here. IMO most planets, moons and smaller bodies with life probably harbor only single celled microbes.

    • In a comment to the linked article, Dr. Lunine states why his team has concluded that the salty liquid water sea beneath Titan’s hard, thick outer H2O ice layer might be in at least partial contact with the silicate core of the moon, rather than totally sandwiched between two impenetrable ice layers.


      Such contact raises the possibility of “normal” life, rather than something completely different.

  13. There is a very good reason why hydrocarbons on Earth are biogenic, and on other planets not. The Earth has had, for hundreds of millions of years, an oxidising environment. Hydrocarbons are a reduced form of carbon. It takes a lot of energy, and a very selective process, to reduce carbon to CHx in the presence of oxygen.

    Photosynthesis is such a process, and is pretty unique. It contributes the energy that reduces CO2. What happens when photosynthesis products are buried is just rearrangement.

    • This does not exclude the possibility that under earth’s earlier atmospheres hydrocarbons might have been produced here as on Titan (a moon, not a planet, but with an atmosphere). Nor does it rule out the possibility of their still being produced in the crust or mantle.

      • “This does not exclude the possibility that under earth’s earlier atmospheres hydrocarbons might have been produced here as on Titan”
        Unlike Titan, oxygen has always been on Earth by far the commonest element, in atmosphere and crust. If there is a reductant powerful enough to reduce CO2 to CH4, there are plenty of other oxides it could work on.

        But none of the abiotic enthusiasts seem able to say what that reductant might be – or why it hasn’t given up its electrons long ago.

    • A good post in however almost completely irreverent. The argument isn’t so much where all the “current” oil on earth is coming from but where oil does in fact come from. The argument has always been that all oil coming from biotic sources(long list of goal post moving on sources)…. both on earth and not on earth. As we explore more, off our tiny sand grain that is earth into other sand grains we find the non-stopped propaganda of “biotic only” is “factually” “challenged”. Yet groups refuse out right to even entertain the prospect that the “biotic only” theory is shaky at best and would rather compartmentalize the fact that biotic only means life is proven on other planets….by their own arguments.

      If this issue wasn’t such a hotbed and propaganda and “policy” issues I don’t think anyone would care very much. However since trillions of dollars are at stake and billions of lives its a little more important to be a little more exact in what should be said…. aka the propaganda of biotic only non-renewable oil really needs to stop.

  14. Alan Robertson
    April 14, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    It should be obvious that consciousness is not a requirement for living things.

    Most life forms on earth are microbial, lacking in anything that might reasonably be called consciousness. Same goes for the majority of multicellular organisms.

    Being able to respond to stimuli does not consciousness make.

    • … and there is also the issue about viruses, which are not able to respond to stimuli, can be considered alive.

      • IMO the issue of response to stimuli is less important in considering viruses non-living than their lacking metabolism and being unable to reproduce without a host cell.

      • a virus outside a living cell is no more a life form, than is a computer program on a thumb drive. The virus is just a packaged set of instructions to make more copies itself.

      • Well if I drop an alka selzer into water and it starts to fizz; that is a legitimate response to a stimulus, so is it the water or the alka selzer that might be considered to be alive . ??

        Seems like a “response to a stimulus” is something to be automatically expected, rather than a miracle of life.

        Just dropping a pebble into a pond evokes a response, but nothing is going to pop out of the water because of it.

      • George,

        Response to stimulus is sometimes listed as a trait of life, but IMO isn’t important.

        However the kind of stimuli meant in the case of life is very different from Alka-Seltzer in water.

      • Prions are an aberrant protein form that catalyzes the conformational change of it’s sister normal proteins into its aberrant shape. Think of prions as the one bad apple in a barrel full of good apples. The Prion conformation of a protein converts all it sisters to the bad conform, which in the case of neurons is toxic and kills them in ever growing numbers. This steadily makes holes in the brain and these dead voids expand, the infected person becomes zombie and dies.

        Humans consuming prion infected brains (any mammalian brain matter should not be eaten) eventually acquire (somehow, how is not exactly known, but may involve immune cells) the prion disease in their own brain. Like a fast-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, they then die horribly.

        Prions are an emergent property of the complexity of protein folding. Even today’s fastest supercomputers still cannot adequately model the complex folding states of a large protein to its final form from first principles of biochemistry and molecular interactions.

    • Well, consciousness, sentience- these are terms of which definitions and levels of understanding differ. I’m unaware of anyone calling microbes sentient, but life is something more than just being defined as self- replicating molecular machines, although I wouldn’t know if that is what the most basic organisms really are. And as uredurra says, there are viruses, but are they alive or just bio machines? This all comes under the heading of more stuff that we don’t know.

      • Whether viruses are alive or not is not a question of knowing, but of definition. Science knows how viruses function. Under one definition, they could be considered alive, but under most, no. Even prions are debatable.

        Neither consciousness nor sentience figure in any definition of life, however. A bacterium is alive. It carries out metabolism and replicates, but does not display any degree of consciousness, by any definition of that term which would meet with general acceptance.

      • “…by any definition of the term which would meet with general acceptance.” Aye, there’s the rub.
        It’s not my intention to drive this thread off into the weeds, so will stop, even though this sort of thing might be the ultimate sort of scientific inquiry, it’s nevertheless, off topic.

      • The definition of life is not some great, deep mystery, but merely a choice. Do you require both metabolism and replication? Then a virus isn’t a living thing, as observed by Joel, although it’s made of the same components as organisms.

        There is no rub, just personal preference as to which complex organic compounds arguably in a grey area to include or exclude.

      • Catherine,

        So back at the viruses; do they not co-opt the machinery of some host cell, and use it to replicate themselves ?

        Izzat not some sort of parasitic existence. But even if diabolical, it hardly seems stranger than some of the other lifestyles that Mother Nature throws at us from time to time.

        So where do prions originate from, and what if anything useful do they do, in the general scheme of things ??

        But I can see you point about matters of definition.

        Pluto is a planet; except for the nit picky definition of a planet.


      • Prions don’t need to do anything “useful”. Utility doesn’t matter.

        But I’m glad you appreciate that what counts as living is purely semantic, if you will. It’s not an important question scientifically. Prions and viruses “do” what they “do”, which isn’t much. Unicellular organisms do what they do, which is actually quite a lot. But a bright line between living and not living is hard to draw and largely a matter of definition, not of nature, which shouldn’t be surprising, since life is a chemical and physical phenomenon.

      • Oops! Forgot to say whence prions.

        They’re proteins which are able to form structures which (structures) can be transferred to other proteins, so in some sense can “replicate”.

        Hardly anybody considers them to be alive. Unfortunately, they are pathologically infectious and in effect untreatable.

      • The genomes of all life forms (from bacteria to humans) is littered with “transposable DNA elements”.
        These are molecular DNA parasites that are intracellular.
        Molecular biologists think of them as garbage DNA and junk DNA, but that “transposable characteristic” is a carry-over of very ancient and basic requirements of how life must have evolved to more and more complex instructions, and trial and error evolution.
        Somewhere along the way, minimal genetic elements arose that could exit the cell, i.e. just an extracellular mobile genetic element of what we call viruses. They are not living. They are just instructions to be inserted into a cell’s machinery. They make the cell make more program copies and spit them back out to infect other cells. But they are not alive.

        Viruses are an emergent property of the complexities of evolution of life.

      • Prions in yeast and other fungi perform interesting epigenetic roles. They are not just pathogens.

      • Of course you’re right. I was speaking of humans and other animals, as in Mad Cow Disease. A cousin of mine died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

  15. It looks to me like they’re counting their chickens a little early here. As they say:
    “The reservoir was identified using CAGE’s high resolution 3D seismic technology aboard research ressel Helmer Hanssen. Now the authors of the paper wish to sample the hydrates 140 meters below the ocean floor, and decipher their gas composition.”
    There have been plenty of times when when a great prospect identified by geophysics has been killed off by a drillhole. Pardon my scepticism, but they need to do that sampling before they make too many claims.

    • Methane hydrates form two ways. Thermogenic from underlying source rock, and biogenic from organic matter decomposition by methanogens near deepwater surfaces. The differences can be determined. There is no credible abiogenic methane on Earth given its geologic history. And this new seismic report has no drill cores to prove anything either way.

  16. It is ironic that all these abiotic claims keep coming up now. Certainly there is some abiotic methane, but the hydrocarbons we produce are virtually all biotic. All that gas and oil being liberated from organic shales by fracking could not have migrated into the impervious shale. It was deposited there as dead organic matter from algae, plankton, bacteria, terrestrial plants, etc. (NOT dinosaurs) and made up 2-10% of the rock volume. Time, and temperature transformed it to gas and oil, and now we are getting it out by horizontal drilling and fracking. It did not originate in the deep earth, it was deposited right where it is.

    • I guess you don’t accept this new information, then? No surprise. There’s lots of junk floating around these days, making it kind of hard to recognize valid science.

  17. I agree with the comment above about Thomas Gold. I first read his material some 20 years ago, and even had a chance to speak to him about it. He spoke then about the near certainty of there being vast quantities of (abiogenic) methane hydrates in the deep ocean floor. His arguments regarding abiogenic origins of hydrocarbons, as marshalled in his book and other writings, are very persuasive.

  18. > Methane, a highly effective greenhouse gas, is usually produced
    > by decomposition of organic material

    That’s a weird opening sentence. Wouldn’t it be more relevant to say “Methane, an extremely useful low-CO2 fuel & organic feedstock, is usually produced by decomposition etc…” ?

  19. Joseph Borsa, just above, hit it right on the nose. My own understanding of what Thomas Gold was saying was that the oil we pump and use is a product of abiotic methane percolating upwards through the layers of sediments containing the remaining raw materials necessary to create petroleum.

    The sediments are, obviously, mostly plankton rather than dinosaurs, but the two together can, indeed, account for the enormous volumes (masses for the terminally anal) of hydrocarbons available for present human consumption.

    It’s not an either/or proposition; the hypothesis is that biotic oil precursors laid the groundwork for the amazingly large amount of liquid hydrocarbons that underpin our modern lives.

    • Larry nails it. I think the confusion results from missunderstanding the word ‘fossil’ in the context of fossil fuel.
      A fossil is a structure, usually cellular, provided by an organism, which is then mineralized by substitution and replacement or enrichment. When wood is ‘petrified’ by the replacement of carbohydrate cellulose structures with hydrated silica to form opalized wood, few people would claim that living trees in the distant past were composed of silica. We don’t see any such trees now. The silica has precipitated into the cell structure.

      When fossilized wood is found in coal beds it is an easy presumption that the fossil which is now mineralized with carbon, had as a source of carbon the wood itself since that is what we see in the modern world: trees made of carbon molecules. This overlooks the distinct possibility that the mineralizing carbon has precipitated from methane by dehydration, which has enriched the carbon content of the deposit. THIS describes fossilization. Biotic plus abiotic=coal. Most coal beds are saturated with methane, carbondioxide and water.

      Petroleum is even more elusive conceptually as a fossil since there are no architectural structural organisms to observe and relate to as having been ‘fossilized’ by deposition. If the biotic constituent of the sediment acts as a catalyst or seed for the ‘mineralization’ of methane into ‘rock oil’, that oil, being liquid, would be free to migrate from source to reservoir depending on how tight the stuctures are. Once again biotic plus abiotic is a possible alternative. I distinctly remember my geology professor years ago stating that we don’t really know where oil comes from, we only know where to find it.

  20. Things fall apart: it’s scientific
    -Talking Heads (Wild, Wild Life)

    In the fossil fable of hydrocarbon origins things don’t fall apart. Carbohydrates from dead things instead get preserved in the sediments of shallow inland seas during step one, while in step two “a miracle occurs” when they are upgraded into hydrocarbons:

    And that’s the balanced chemical equation for the transformation of dead stuff into “fossil fuels”:
    dead stuff + then a miracle occurs = hydrocarbon species
    It’s not scientific, because dead things spontaneously fall apart. Dmitri Mendeléev knew that already in 1877:
    The capital fact to note is that petroleum was born in the depths of the earth, and it is only there that we must seek its origin.

    The first microbes were probably built and powered by hydrocarbons. Their gas-guzzling descendants infest the planet today, from pole to pole, from sediment to surface, and in the deepest rocks that we’ve managed to drill into the crust. Without their incessant activity, the surfaces of the oceans would be coated in a thick layer of oil and photosynthesis would be impossible as a consequence. In fact, it wouldn’t have evolved in the first place without microbes to clean up the huge volume of oil that springs from natural leaks.
    Microbes today still consume more hydrocarbons than we do. Developing an insatiable appetite for “fossil fuels” before photosynthesis evolved is just another miracle in the story.

  21. there was a convincing suggestion many years ago that a massive release of methane would explain the disappearance of the squadron of aeroplanes and ships in the Bermuda triangle. Planes ignited cloud of gas and ships could no longer float.

  22. Abiotic methane has been well established geology for over two decades. The debate over whether themsource is primordial escape from the mantle or from serpinitization of ultramafic rockmis largely settled in favor of the latter, although there is more than one synthesis pathway. In fact the flaming seeps in Turkey that Pliny thenElder wrote about turnnout to be abiotic. What is unusual about this new discovery is Framm Strait conditions that allow its accumulation as methane hydrate. But unless the encasing sediments are sand, there is no method known even conceptually to extract them. See essay Ice that Burns for details.

    There is no evidence for abiotic petroleum. Period. Gold’s theory fails on several geological counts. The Russian claims about the Donestk Ukraine deposits are faulty geology. The fractured crytalline basement rock happens to have overthrust underlying traditional marine shale source rock. The trace oil recovered from the Swedish experiment came from the drilling mud. All oil comes from catagenesis, usually of marine kerogen from algae and cyanobacteria, rarely from peat turning to coal. Some of the deepwater fields west of Norway are if this latter type.

    • Rud –

      With regard to Gold’s result with the Siljan (Sweden) experiment, according to the Deep Hot Biosphere book the oil recovered was, while very far from commercial quantities, much larger than the “trace” amounts as you and others have described it. (To me, trace implies tiny tiny fractions – like an amount I wouldn’t worry about in a glass of drinking water.) In one pump-up, they recovered 12 tons of quite normal crude oil. In addition to the crude, they pumped up the famous brown crud – the fine-grained magnetite in the amount of 15 tons which Gold felt was reduced from an oxide by microbes. It was principally this paste that clogged and shut down further efforts. (I believe you are a farmer so may have encountered a similar situation digging self-filling fence-post holes!) And there was a second control bore which used water as the “principal drilling fluid”. We could use more details.

  23. Nick,

    Oxygen is also abundant on Titan, which after all is encased in H2O ice and harbors liquid water at depth.

  24. We are not pumping dinosaurs into our gas tanks. There is no evidence which shows that there has ever been that much organic material which would be available for transformation into coal and other petrochemical things. Any suggestion that hydrocarbons are only found through decayed organic, and I do mean (formerly living), matter from the surface of the earth is ridiculous.

    Sadly, we all know that being rediculous has never stopped anyone from believing anything. The climate change scare is proof of this.

    It has been known for a while that submarines doing research while exploring the “Juan de La Fuca plate”, off of the Pacific Northwest, discovered “Abiotic” hydrocarbons in water samples taken from “black smokers” and the hot water vents deep in the Pacific ocean.

    Even the biblcal story of Sodom and Gommorah in Gen 19:24, discusses “fire and brimstone” (raining) on those cities.

    Divine intervention or volcanism, whichever is preferable to the reader, would suggest that if these flammable things can fall from the sky on the earth, they can fall from the sky in other places and possibly on other planets as well.

    The light spectre from outgassing comets, and from stars and within interstellar space suggests that these hydrocarbon materials are present in some form in many other places as well.

    (from the primer linked below)
    “Methane has been detected on:

    Jupiter, Mars, Saturn (and its moons Iapetus, Titan, Enceladus), Neptune (Triton), Uranus (Ariel, Miranda, Oberon, Titania, Umbriel), Pluto, Comet Halley, Comet Hyakutake and cosmic dust, Nebulae and Interstellar gas.”

    This would exclude the idea that petroleum exists only by a process which is organic and of a terrestrial Earthly origin.

    A primer about abiotic hydrocarbons can be read here: http://origeminorganicadopetroleo.blogspot.com/2011/02/normal-0-21-false-false-false-pt-br-x.html.

  25. I don’t see the difficulty in methane formation of higher alkanes in a deep geological environment. If the methane is to any extent in a liquid state at high pressure, the pressure-driven thermodynamics of the situation could favor its concatenation into longer chains (to increase density, releasing pressure-volume work energy) while releasing hydrogen that would be soluble in the surrounding medium and which would diffuse away. Meanwhile, on its way up through the rock layers, it would reduce oxygen (water), nitrogen (ammonia), and sulfur (hydrogen sulfide) and bring them to the surface. Ref. Vladimir Larin’s work.

  26. A worthwhile read for the topic of abiotic/abiotic methane: “The Spark of Life” by Christopher Wills and Jeffrey Bada

  27. Rud Istvan
    There is no credible abiogenic methane on Earth given its geologic history

    Yes there is – but you have to look.

    “Ryan S:
    There is only one way, currently known, for generating oil and that is Thermogenic generation.

    “The high-pressure genesis of petroleum hydrocarbons has been demonstrated using only the reagents solid iron oxide, FeO, and marble, CaCO3, 99.9% pure and wet with triple-distilled water.”

    The evolution of multicomponent systems at high pressures: VI. The thermodynamic stability of the hydrogen–carbon system: The genesis of hydrocarbons and the origin of petroleum
    –J. F. Kenney , Vladimir A. Kutcherov, Nikolai A. Bendeliani, and Vladimir A. Alekseev

    ” I could go into excruciating detail of all the different types of Kerogen, their formation, and thermal maturation, but I’ll only do it if you are truly interested.”

    I am truly interested in your explanation for the “Kerogen rich rock” (capital K for important) called Comet Haley, comprised of 1/3 “kerogen” (better known as “oil shale”). That’s equivalent to around 500 years of OPEC output on a tiny lifeless pebble, btw.
    Can you explain the formation of that “kerogen”?

  28. I am not against the idea of abiotic methane, given, as discussed by many above, the evidence from various moons in our solar system. However, two comments:

    1) I’ve read quite a bit of this but do not see where it is ruled out that the hydrates found in this study are biotic in origin rather than abiotic.

    2) As other commenters above have said, those of us involved in commercial exploration and production of hydrocarbons base our approach on 5 elements to an oil or gas field before drilling: these are:
    a) an organic-rich source rock (a layer of sediment that includes algal, planktonic or plant material;
    b) the thermal maturation of such material, and its migration to a useful “reservoir” rock with porosity and permeability, (in the case of fraccing plays the porosity and permeability are created by fracturing);
    c) the existence of such “reservoir” rock;
    d) a structure (either tectonic or stratigraphic) in which the migrated oil or gas accumulates;
    e) a seal which retains the hydrocarbons in such structure.

    Those of us who have had wells drilled on such prospective areas, and have made discoveries of oil or gas are quite happy that this approach is the way forward to finding oil and gas. By considering the probabilities of these 5 factors, our exploration efforts are kept realisitc. That way, we make enough discoveries to keep the companies we work for as going concerns. And we keep all of you supplied with hydrocarbons to power your cars, heat your homes etc..

    This is not to refute the possibility of abiotic hydrocarbons. This is just to emphasise that this approach (assuming that heated organic material is one of 5 requisites for a good drill prospect) has been succesful
    in the oil and gas industry. By the way, my employer also has interests in Russia, where the exact same approach is taken.

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