New research from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) published Aug. 19, 2019, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science provides evidence of the formation and abundance of abiotic methane--methane formed by chemical reactions that don't involve organic matter--on Earth and shows how the gases could have a similar origin on other planets and moons, even those no longer home to liquid water. Researchers had long noticed methane released from deep-sea vents. But while the gas is plentiful in the atmosphere where it's produced by living things, the source of methane at the seafloor was a mystery.
"Identifying an abiotic source of deep-sea methane has been a problem that we've been wrestling with for many years," says Jeffrey Seewald a senior scientist at WHOI who studies geochemistry in hydrothermal systems and is one of the study's authors.
The manipulator arm of the remotely operated vehicle Jason samples a stream of fluid from a hydrothermal vent. The fluid contains gases that are in liquid form because of the high pressure of the deep ocean.
Credit: Photo by Chris German/WHOI/NSF, NASA/ROV Jason 2012, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Of 160 rock samples analyzed from across the world's oceans, almost all contained pockets of methane. These oceanic deposits make up a reservoir exceeding the amount of methane in Earth's atmosphere before industrialization, estimates Frieder Klein, a marine geologist at WHOI and lead author of the study.
"We were totally surprised to find this massive pool of abiotic methane in the oceanic crust and mantle," Klein says.
The scientists analyzed rocks using Raman spectroscopy, a laser-based microscope that allows them to identify fluids and minerals in a thin slice of rock. Nearly every sample contained an assemblage of minerals and gases that form when seawater, moving through the deep oceanic crust, is trapped in magma-hot olivine.
As the mineral cools, the water trapped inside undergoes a chemical reaction, a process called serpentinization that forms hydrogen and methane. The authors demonstrate that in otherwise inhospitable environments, just two ingredients?--water and olivine?--can form methane.
"Here's a source of chemical energy that's being created by geology," says Seewald.
On Earth, deep-sea methane might have played a critical role for the evolution of primitive organisms living at hydrothermal vents on the seafloor, Seewald explains. And elsewhere in the solar system, on places like Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's Enceladus, methane produced through the same process could provide an energy source for basic life forms.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans' role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit http://www.
WHOI Media Office | EurekAlert!
NASA, NOAA analyses reveal 2019 second warmest year on record
16.01.2020 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
New assessment of gas locked in ice in European waters
16.01.2020 | University of Southampton
Styrofoam or copper - both materials have very different properties with regard to their ability to conduct heat. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz and the University of Bayreuth have now jointly developed and characterized a novel, extremely thin and transparent material that has different thermal conduction properties depending on the direction. While it can conduct heat extremely well in one direction, it shows good thermal insulation in the other direction.
Thermal insulation and thermal conduction play a crucial role in our everyday lives - from computer processors, where it is important to dissipate heat as...
In order to advance the transfer of research developments from the field of quantum sensor technology into industrial applications, an application laboratory is being established at Fraunhofer IAF. This will enable interested companies and especially regional SMEs and start-ups to evaluate the innovation potential of quantum sensors for their specific requirements. Both the state of Baden-Württemberg and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft are supporting the four-year project with one million euros each.
The application laboratory is being set up as part of the Fraunhofer lighthouse project »QMag«, short for quantum magnetometry. In this project, researchers...
Microtubules, filamentous structures within the cell, are required for many important processes, including cell division and intracellular transport. A...
Researchers from the University Hospital Zurich, ETH Zurich, Wyss Zurich and the University of Zurich have developed a machine that repairs injured human livers and keep them alive outside the body for one week. This breakthrough may increase the number of available organs for transplantation saving many lives of patients with severe liver diseases or cancer.
Until now, livers could be stored safely outside the body for only a few hours. With the novel perfusion technology, livers - and even injured livers - can now...
A balloon-borne scientific instrument designed to study the origin of cosmic rays is taking its second turn high above the continent of Antarctica three and a half weeks after its launch.
SuperTIGER (Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder) is designed to measure the rare, heavy elements in cosmic rays that hold clues about their origins...
16.01.2020 | Event News
15.01.2020 | Event News
07.01.2020 | Event News
17.01.2020 | Life Sciences
17.01.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering
17.01.2020 | Life Sciences