Methane, frozen for thousands of years, is being released by warming water temperatures, says a new study.
A new study just released says that pockets of frozen methane deep in the ocean off the coast of Washington and Oregon are melting and releasing the toxic gas in to the atmosphere, according to a report in the Daily Mail.
Ocean temperatures, that have been warming due to climate change about one third of a mile below the surface, are transitioning solid methane ice into methane gas, and it is bubbling up to the surface.
Methane gas is believed to be the second-largest contributor to increased climate change around the world, and is about 23 times more potent in the trapping the heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
An earlier study by the same team of researchers said this could release about 0.1 million metric tons of methane each year into the sediments off the coast of Washington, if current warming trends continue at their present rate. That is about equal to the amount released during the Deepwater Horizon blowout back in 2010.
Lead author of the study, H. Paul Johnson, a University of Washington professor of oceanography, said, “We see an unusually high number of bubble plumes at the depth where methane hydrate would decompose if seawater has warmed.”
That fact leads the scientists to surmise the additional methane is coming from the melting of the methane pockets, that have been frozen for thousands of years, rather that just being emitted from the sediments.
Due to the cold temperatures and high pressure on the floor of the ocean, methane gas in the sediments form a crystal-like lattice structure with the water. The result is an ice-like solid, known as methane hydrate, which is sensitive to changes in temperature.
As ocean temperatures warm, the crystals begin to break away and release the gas, and, being lighter than the water, and it bubbles up to the surface.