Discussions have ensued on whether warming climates may cause the methane trapped in methane hydrates to escape and eventually be released into the earth’s atmosphere. A new study just published in Science Advances indicate this does not appear to be the case.
The study by a team of researchers, led by Katy Sparrow of the University of Rochester, used radiocarbon dating on samples from the continental shelf offshore of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. While methane found near the ocean floor did date from ancient sources, indicating the gas was being released with increasing temperatures, no such ancient methane was found closer to the surface. Those methane sources found near the surface were attributed to human-caused emissions or gas from recently decaying organic matter. The research did not determine what is stopping ancient methane from reaching the surface.
Methane can be trapped in deep cold places, in a cage-like lattice of ice are called methane hydrates. Methane hydrates have been found in the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, trapped there for thousands of years. Research indicates that during warm spells, decreased pressure on these pockets of methane have caused explosive blow-outs, creating giant craters and releasing methane into the water. A study in Science journal studied such an area in the Barents Sea in Norway.
The research from the two studies indicate that, while methane may be released with warming, it won’t necessarily make it to the surface and be released into the atmosphere. More research will be necessary to see if natural processes such as microbial activity would likely capture or consume the gas or if there are other factors that play a role in the gas leakages not making it to the surface.