Tags: methane | plumes | west | coast

Methane Plumes Off West Coast as Warm Sea Melts Frozen Gas

Image: Methane Plumes Off West Coast as Warm Sea Melts Frozen Gas
Sonar image of bubbles rising from the seafloor off the Washington coast. The base of the column is 1/3 of a mile (515 meters) deep and the top of the plume is at 1/10 of a mile (180 meters) depth. (Brendan Philip/University of Washington)

By    |   Friday, 16 Oct 2015 08:39 AM

Methane plumes have been detected more frequently over the past decade off the coast of Washington and Oregon, and are likely being released by warming ocean waters that are melting the frozen chemical compound.

"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 University of Washington professor of oceanography and lead author of a study recently accepted by Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

"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."

Gizmodo reported that the scientists are not sure how much methane is making it to the ocean's surface, and how much of it is being consumed by marine microbes. Those microbes convert the methane into carbon dioxide, which can in turn increase ocean acidity. 

"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," said Johnson.

Now, scientists are collecting chemical samples emitted by sediments along the coasts to narrow in on what could be causing the plumes, and how the plumes may ultimately impact local waterways.

"What we’re seeing is possible confirmation of what we predicted from the water temperatures: Methane hydrate appears to be decomposing and releasing a lot of gas," Johnson said. "If you look systematically, the location on the margin where you’re getting the largest number of methane plumes per square meter, it is right at that critical depth of 500 meters."

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Methane plumes have been detected more frequently over the past decade off the coast of Washington and Oregon, and are likely being released by warming ocean waters that are melting the frozen chemical compound.
methane, plumes, west, coast
271
2015-39-16
Friday, 16 Oct 2015 08:39 AM
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