The UK’s National Oceanography Centre in Southampton reports:
The warming of an Arctic current over the last 30 years has triggered the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from methane hydrate stored in the sediment beneath the seabed.
German and British scientists “have found that more than 250 plumes of bubbles of methane gas are rising from the seabed of the West Spitsbergen continental margin in the Arctic, in a depth range of 150 to 400 metres”
Methane released from gas hydrate in submarine sediments has been identified in the past as an agent of climate change. The likelihood of methane being released in this way has been widely predicted.
A lead researcher said, “Our survey was designed to work out how much methane might be released by future ocean warming; we did not expect to discover such strong evidence that this process has already started.”
This is the first time that such behaviour in response to climate change has been observed in the modern period.
While most of the methane currently released from the seabed is dissolved in the seawater before it reaches the atmosphere, methane seeps are episodic and unpredictable and periods of more vigorous outflow of methane into the atmosphere are possible. Furthermore, methane dissolved in the seawater contributes to ocean acididfication.
Geophysics Professor Graham Westbrook warns: “If this process becomes widespread along Arctic continental margins, tens of megatonnes of methane per year – equivalent to 5-10% of the total amount released globally by natural sources, could be released into the ocean.”
- Research thanks to Kael