Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Geologist Discovers Natural Methane Seepage in an Unlikely Place

26.08.2014

New questions about geology, oceanography and seafloor ecosystems are being raised because of research by a Mississippi State University geologist.

Lead author Adam Skarke, assistant professor of geosciences at MSU, worked with researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other institutions on a scientific team that discovered methane seeps in unlikely places along the seafloor on the northern part of the U.S. Atlantic margin.


Courtesy of NOAA

Ocean floor methane seeps

The group’s scientific paper, “Widespread methane leakage from the sea floor on the northern U.S. Atlantic margin,” was published online Sunday [Aug. 24] by the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience.

Before he joined the faculty at MSU, Skarke worked as a physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER). As part of a large team of scientists and technicians, Skarke participated in many cruises on the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer as it mapped the Atlantic Ocean floor between North Carolina and Cape Cod. The discovery of gas plumes in the water column over the seafloor, detailed in the new publication, used data the ship collected starting in 2011, Skarke said.

... more about:
»MSU »NOAA »Ocean »USGS »seafloor

He and his colleagues found 570 methane seeps in this area, compared to only three formerly known sites.

To analyze the NOAA OER data and locate the positions of the plumes, which correspond to places where methane gas is seeping out of the seafloor, Skarke worked closely with Brown University undergraduate and NOAA Hollings Scholar Mali’o Kodis during the summer of 2013.

Methane often naturally leaks from the seafloor, particularly in petroleum basins like the Gulf of Mexico or on tectonically active continental margins like the U.S. Pacific Coast, Skarke said. However, the geologic characteristics of the U.S. Atlantic margin suggest the seepage was not necessarily expected there because the tectonically passive area lacks an underlying petroleum basin.

The team thinks that many of the newly-discovered seeps may be related to the breakdown of a special kind of “methane ice” or gas hydrate, a frozen combination of methane and water stable in sediments below 500 or more meters, or 1,640 feet, of ocean water, Skarke said. With small changes in ocean temperature, gas hydrate can release its methane into the sediments, and the gas may escape at the seafloor to form plumes in the water column.

“Globally, the upper ocean has been warming for decades,” Skarke said. “Some of the seeps we found are similar to those on Arctic Ocean margins, where warming has been more rapid. But we also know that some subsets of the seeps have probably been active for over 1,000 years. A key question is how the long-term seepage and short-term warming of the ocean are related to methane escape.”

Skarke said the research “does not provide sufficient evidence to draw objective conclusions about the relationship between these methane seeps and global climate change.”

“This significant discovery instead introduces a number of related questions that require further exploration and investigation to address,” he added.

Although methane, or natural gas, is used as an energy source worldwide, the type of methane leaking at most of the seep sites is probably produced by micro-organisms digesting organic matter in the shallow sediments, he said. At this time, no evidence suggests the seeps tap into deep natural gas reservoirs that can be used for energy. Once samples of the methane are obtained, simple measurements made by geochemists can determine if shallow or deep gas sources feed the seeps.

Methane is a strong greenhouse gas, but nearly all of the seeps described in the new study leak at such deep ocean depths that methane does not reach the atmosphere directly, he emphasized. Instead, micro-organisms in the water column transform most of the methane into carbon dioxide, making ocean waters more acidic, which can harm some types of marine life.

The methane seeps provide new natural laboratories for ecologists who study life on the deep ocean floor, Skarke said. Animals there use the energy created by chemical reactions to survive—chemosynthetic life-forms. For example, their metabolisms may depend on methane or hydrogen sulfide, a common seep gas toxic to many life forms.

“These newly-discovered seeps have expanded the number of locations that deep sea ecologists can study,” Skarke said. “The NOAA OER program used its remotely operated vehicle to visit about 1 percent of the seeps in 2013, and it found well-developed communities of chemosynthetic mussels thriving near the methane plumes. Two years ago, no human had ever seen these seafloor communities that have now been found at the seep sites.”

He said additional research questions for deep sea ecologists include determining how separate seeps are colonized with new life, as well as understanding the structure of the communities and the relationships among bacteria, small fauna, and larger organisms, like mussels.

“A cornerstone of the NOAA OER program is the collection of data that can lead to new discoveries for the scientific community,” he said. “One unique aspect of the program that made it so enjoyable to work there was the fact that we collected many types of data about U.S. oceans and made the data immediately available to the scientific community for studies that could not otherwise have been completed.”

Skarke said he appreciates the support of MSU administrators, especially those in the Department of Geosciences, as he and his collaborators readied the research for publication in a top-tier, peer-reviewed journal. In addition to Skarke and Kodis, authors of the paper include Carolyn Ruppel of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project, Daniel Brothers of USGS and Elizabeth Lobecker of Earth Resources Technology.

Visit dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2232 to view the complete abstract of “Widespread methane leakage from the sea floor on the northern U.S. Atlantic margin,” or go to http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3979&from=rss_home#.U_tMVGP_mzd to read USGS’ press release about the research.

Learn more about Skarke at geosciences.msstate.edu/people/skarke/index.htm.
MSU is online at www.msstate.edu, facebook.com/msstate, instagram.com/msstate and twitter.com/msstate.

Allison Matthews | newswise

Further reports about: MSU NOAA Ocean USGS seafloor

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht More than 100 years of flooding and erosion in 1 event
28.03.2017 | Geological Society of America

nachricht Satellites reveal bird habitat loss in California
28.03.2017 | Duke University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Transport of molecular motors into cilia

28.03.2017 | Life Sciences

A novel hybrid UAV that may change the way people operate drones

28.03.2017 | Information Technology

NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts

28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>