Friday, March 23 , 2018, 11:44 pm | Fair 51º


Letter to the Editor: More Methane Leaks Found

Scientists have discovered 570 previously unknown sites on the Atlantic seaboard where methane gas is bubbling into the atmosphere.

Methane (CH4), created when organic material decomposes in an oxygen-free environment, is a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a stimulant to rising temperatures. Untold quantities of this gas, developed over eons of time, are trapped in the top layers of earth and undersea beds.

It is generally believed that the amount of CH4 currently escaping into the atmosphere via ocean “plumes” is small compared to the amounts spewed into the air by farming, agricultural and fossil-fuel producing industries. (Believe it or not, farm animals’ farts and belches contribute substantially to the total.)

But the catastrophic possibility that remains unknown at the moment is how, and whether, methane “hydrates” are, or will be, affected by natural or climate-driven temperature changes.

Hydrates are compressed “iceballs” — a frozen mix of gas and water formed by cold and pressure. They are extremely sensitive to temperature changes. A warmed hydrate explodes into a relatively enormous amount of CH4 and water. If methane hydrates embedded in a sea floor deep beneath the surface “dissociate,” most of the released methane will be absorbed into the water, converted to carbon dioxide that intensifies the water’s acidity and itself eventually finds its way into the air. The remaining methane bubbles reach the surface and enter the atmosphere. If the warmed hydrates were not far from the ocean surface, most of the gas goes into the air.

Methane in the planet’s atmosphere is short-lived compared to the carbon dioxide there. After about 10 years, it converts to CO2. So however one calculates matters, the current accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is accelerating at a nonstop rate.

The newly discovered plumes of methane vaulting into the atmosphere cover an offshore area of Atlantic Ocean seaboard reaching from North Carolina to Massachusetts.

“‘They found that there was much more methane coming out than was suspected beforehand,’ said Christian Berndt, a marine geophysicist at GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany.” Carolyn Ruppel, of the U.S. Geological Survey, believed that “most of the leaks” stemmed from “hydrates in the initial sediments of the seabed.” (Climate Progress)

“If the East Coast could hide hundreds of bubbling methane pits, then it’s likely there are nearly 30,000 more awaiting discovery in the world’s oceans, the researchers said.” (Live

The catastrophic unknown is this: if rising temperatures — natural or climate-caused — melt sufficient quantities of methane hydrates trapped in beds beneath the Arctic Sea, where some earth scientists have predicted there will soon be no ice in summer, or beneath the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, where millions of tons of methane are already spewing into the atmosphere on a daily basis, or in places such as the newly discovered Atlantic seaboard eruptions, the extinction we face will occur sooner rather than later.

The plants (and many animals) we require to feed ourselves cannot adapt to the rate at which the planet’s temperature is increasing. This is happening now: “‘In the U.S. we have seen acute effects of severe heat on corn, cotton, and soy yields,’ says Noah Diffenbaugh,a climate scientist at Stanford University and one of the lead authors of the North American section of the (IPCC) document. ‘That kind of severe heat is likely to increase in response to continued global warming.’” (National, March 31, 2014)

So, as things stand on this planet right now, how many would like to broadcast the message, “Wish You Were Here”?

William Smithers
Santa Barbara

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