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!
Massive impact crater from a kilometer-wide iron meteorite discovered in Greenland
15.11.2018 | Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen
The unintended consequences of dams and reservoirs
14.11.2018 | Uppsala University
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine
16.11.2018 | Life Sciences
16.11.2018 | Life Sciences