Research led by a University of New Hampshire professor has identified a new source of methane for gas hydrates -- ice-like substances found in sediment that trap methane within the crystal structure of frozen water -- in the Arctic Ocean. The findings, published online now in the May 2015 journal Geology, point to a previously undiscovered, stable reservoir for abiotic methane - methane not generated by decomposing carbon - that is "locked" away from the atmosphere, where it could impact global climate change.
"We've found an example where methane produced at a mid-ocean ridge is locked up in stable, deep water gas hydrate, preventing it from possibly getting out of the seafloor," says lead author Joel Johnson, associate professor of geology at UNH and guest researcher at the Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate (CAGE) at UiT The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø.
Johnson notes that the findings, which pinpointed a source of abiotic methane ¬produced in seafloor crust, indicate gas hydrates throughout the Arctic may be supplied by a significant portion of abiotic gas.
The study, "Abiotic methane from ultraslow-spreading ridges can charge Arctic gas hydrates," focused on the Arctic mid-ocean ridge system, one of two so-called ultraslow-spreading ridge regions on Earth. Scientists have known that abiotic methane can be generated in these ridges through a process called serpentization, which involves the reaction of seawater with hot mantle-derived rocks exposed during slow to ultraslow mid-ocean ridge spreading.
While on sabbatical last year (2013-14) at CAGE, Johnson and his co-authors from that institution embarked on two cruises in the unique geologic and oceanographic region called the Fram Strait, a deep, narrow gateway to the Arctic Ocean between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.
There, fast-moving currents move sediment, uncommon on most mid-ocean ridges, into sediment drifts that cover the ridges. Using a seismic data acquisition system, they found a methane hydrate system within those sediments.
The discovery surprised the researchers. "We didn't know whether or not abiotic methane could supply gas hydrate systems so close to mid-ocean ridges" Johnson says. "It had been thought that mid-ocean ridge environments might be too hot for gas hydrates to be stable."
Indeed, those methane hydrates are remarkably stable: The researchers showed that the hydrate system is long-lived, about two million years old. Further, because the hydrates exist under very deep water - more than 1500 meters - the methane is less vulnerable to potential release due to changing sea levels or ocean warming. Such stability has important implications for climate change; as a greenhouse gas, methane is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
"This work shows there are parts of the Arctic where abiotic methane is coming up to the seafloor and instead of coming out, it is trapped in gas hydrates; it's finding itself in a stable environment for millions of years," says Johnson. Where climate change is concerned, he adds, "this is not the part of the gas hydrate system that is most susceptible to change in a warming Arctic Ocean."
Although his focus is on the crust of the Earth, not interplanetary space, Johnson notes that these findings are interesting, as some researchers have suggested abiotic methane formed by serpentinization may exist and reside as gas hydrates on Mars. And as gas hydrates gain popularity as potential fuel for the future here on Earth, the energy sector is likely to take notice as well. "This is a new source of methane for gas hydrates in the Arctic that could be quite extensive," Johnson says.
The study is available online. Co-authors on the study are Jürgen Mienert, Andreia Plaza-Faverola, Sunil Vadakkepuliyambatta, Jochen Knies, Stefan Bünz, Karin Andreassen and Bénédicte Ferré, all of CAGE. The research was partly supported by the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence funding scheme (project number 223259). Additional sabbatical support for Johnson was provided by UNH and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 12,300 undergraduate and 2,200 graduate students.
Photographs available to download:
Caption: University of New Hampshire geologist Joel Johnson (center, with beard) prepares to collect seismic data on board the research vessel Helmer Hanssen in the Fram Strait.
Credit: Courtesy of Joel Johnson.
Caption: Looking toward Svalbard, an archipelago off the coast of Norway, from the Isfjorden fjord.
Credit: Courtesy of Joel Johnson.
Media contact: Beth Potier
UNH Communications and Public Affairs
Reporters and editors: Joel Johnson is available at email@example.com or 603-862-4080.
Beth Potier | EurekAlert!
Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute
Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
08.12.2016 | Life Sciences
08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences