Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Researchers Discover Hundreds of Methane Plumes Off the East Coast

In a surprise discovery, hundreds of gas plumes have been found emanating from the seafloor. The plumes are thought to be methane and they were discovered during a survey of the US Atlantic Coast. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The find was published on August 24th in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Using what is known as mulitbeam sonar, the 570 methane plumes were located Between North Carolina's Cape Hatteras and Massachusetts' Georges Bank. One of the largest seeps in the Atlantic and possibly the world was discovered in Norfolk canyon off the coast of Virginia, by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2013.

Most of these shallow methane seeps in the Atlantic are thought to be due to microbes burping out methane. A remotely operated vehicle also glimpsed patches of methane hydrate (an icy mix of methane and water) on the ocean floor. The melting of methane hydrates, particularly in the Arctic are one of the tipping points that can, according to some scientists, radically accelerate global warming.

Scientists are eager to explore this new Atlantic methane vents because of the growing interest in the relationship between methane hydrates and climate change. On its own the East coast discovery may not radically change the global warming equation, but scientists have postulated that in addition to the Arctic methane, there are nearly 30,000 vents in the world's oceans.

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