Frozen Methane is Thawing and Making its Way Into the Atmosphere

Thanks to climate change, methane is rising from our oceans and into our atmosphere.

Increasing water temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are causing frozen methane trapped in layers under the seafloor – called methane plumes –to thaw, rise to the surface and enter our atmosphere.

This isn’t the first time warm water temperatures have forced methane to the surface. The frozen methane clusters appeared on the East Coast last year. In August 2014, it was reported that 570 methane seeps clustered in approximately eight regions. Compared to carbon dioxide, methane is about 25 times more potent.

The latest research into methane plumes off the Pacific Northwest comes from the University of Washington. Scientists observed 168 methane plumes over the course of a decade.

“We see an unusually high number of bubble plumes at the depth where methane hydrate would decompose if seawater has warmed,” said H. Paul Johnson, a UW professor of oceanography and lead author of the recent study. “So it is not likely to be just emitted from the sediments; this appears to be coming from the decomposition of methane that has been frozen for thousands of years.”

Frozen as is, the methane plumes are not dangerous to our environment. When they thaw and come to the surface, however, the methane bubbles become a powerful and dangerous greenhouse gas. At the rate these plumes are coming to the surface, our atmosphere could be filled with .1 million metric tons of methane per year, just from the plumes off the Washington coast.

In the past, scientists focused on methane plumes in the Arctic, as well as increasing water temperatures on the ocean’s surfaces. The recent data on methane plumes shows that deep water has had significant temperature spikes due to climate change.

Luckily, much of the methane is eaten up by bacteria or converted into carbon dioxide. But we can’t assume this will be the case forever, as climate change continually affects our planet from year to year.

“Current environmental changes in Washington and Oregon are already impacting local biology and fisheries, and these changes would be amplified by the further release of methane,” Johnson said.

Photo Credit: anthony

52 comments

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Mankind is triggering another Permian extinction. There won't be any humans left (thankfully for Earth) but hopefully Earth will recover from this one. I'd estimate at least ten million years to get rid of the worst toxins, pollutants and radiation that humanity has blanketed the Earth with.

The Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago, also known as the "Great Dying," was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of 6 degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas (the same volcanism was also thought to have triggered massive methane release from bacteria in the oceans) Released into the atmosphere, those gases caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years. The change in climate is thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet. In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95 percent of all species were wiped out.

Methane's lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2 lingers in the upper atmosphere an average of 100 years), but CH4 is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thank you

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Deborah Servey
Deborah Servey2 years ago

I agree with a number of previous comments--it's going to take alot of hard work, and it needs to start NOW if we are going to stop or even hope to reverse minutely any of this damage!!

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Natasha Salgado
Past Member 2 years ago

Our future is looking more grim with each year. Population control would surely go a long way to help earth heal is what's desperately needed somehow.

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vee s.
Veronica-Mae s2 years ago

Just a silly thought. Could any of this be tapped and used ? If it going to be there anyway, making use of it makes sense.

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Hamburger Moscovici

We need to stop using non-renewable resources and encourage solar, wind and geothermal energy now

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william Miller
william Miller2 years ago

interesting

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Jonathan Harper
Jonathan H2 years ago

Noted

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Nikola Iliev
Nikola Iliev2 years ago

IThanks for sharing.

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