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Earth Science

Numerous Methane Leaks Found On Atlantic Sea Floor 273

Posted by samzenpus
from the bubbling-up dept.
sciencehabit writes Researchers have discovered 570 plumes of methane percolating up from the sea floor off the eastern coast of the United States, a surprisingly high number of seeps in a relatively quiescent part of the ocean. The seeps suggest that methane's contribution to climate change has been underestimated in some models. And because most of the seeps lie at depths where small changes in temperature could be releasing the methane, it is possible that climate change itself could be playing a role in turning some of them on.
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Numerous Methane Leaks Found On Atlantic Sea Floor

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  • Global Warming? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) *

    Is this part of the "man made" global warming thing?

    • by SQLGuru (980662) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:17PM (#47749777) Journal

      Earth farts......

    • Re:Global Warming? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Cardoor (3488091) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:23PM (#47749831)
      very possibly.

      most of the seeps lie at depths where small changes in temperature could be releasing the methane

      in other words, the warming that is already occurring has (surprise surprise) a positive feedback loop. one of many. whether or not the initiator was man-made in origin (hint: it was and is).
      • Re:Global Warming? (Score:5, Informative)

        by i kan reed (749298) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:26PM (#47749869) Homepage Journal

        And let's break from the summary and go to the article for an even more damning quote(emphasis mine):

        Jens Greinert, who heads the deep-sea monitoring unit at GEOMAR, downplays the effect of the new seeps on the atmosphere or ocean chemistry because the magnitude of the releases is dwarfed by human-associated inputs, such as livestock, or even other marine sites. “These little bits of bubbling here or there will not make a memorable impact,” Greinert says. He is more interested in what will happen as the world warms. “It becomes interesting only if you have a catastrophic release,” he says.

        • by ganjadude (952775)
          interesting.... however the problem lies in the fact thats it is higher than they thought, meaning it COULD still be worse than they thought, meaning AGW MAY NOT be the doom and gloom some make it out to be.

          this little bit of information is not a gotcha moment, but it leads credence to the idea that we still have no idea
          • Setting: two people with their ankles handcuffed together

            Says the left man: "We just don't know exactly how fast that car is going, your radar gun reading 67.432 MpH is based on sketchy theories I don't trust(and how did you get all those sigfigs?), and I'm guessing it's less than that, and think about how much effort it would take to move out of the way. Your 'get hit and die' theory is faulty, so we should clearly not move."

            Says the right man: "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah"

            • Re:Global Warming? (Score:4, Informative)

              by ganjadude (952775) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:51PM (#47750117) Homepage
              thats actually not what i was saying at all. where did i say do nothing? what I am saying is that the "models" are wrong, because they dont have all the variables in place, as such we can take them with a grain of salt AND AT THE SAME TIME... work on ways to reduce our contribution to the "problem"
              • Well, okay, I'll be less antagonistic about it.

                Because the actual scientists involved have constantly been refining the theory and an entirely unreasonable amount of argument is dedicated to pretending that isn't happening.

                It's just the people who are expecting a revolutionary reversal for no reason whatsoever never shut up about how we're not respecting the scientific method, I have a tendency to see that argument vis a vis climate change in a very harsh light.

              • Re:Global Warming? (Score:4, Insightful)

                by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday August 25, 2014 @02:25PM (#47750521) Homepage Journal

                " what I am saying is that the "models" are wrong, "
                No, you are wrong.
                The models are excellent models. That have even 'shown' thing we didn't know about, but when we went and looked there they where.
                That means they are excellent models.

                "because they don't have all the variables in place,"
                That doesn't make them wrong.

                Are they 100%? No
                Are they wrong? No.
                You should problem make and effort to understand 2 things:
                Climate models
                Error Bars.

                If someone falls off a building and and I say "My model predicts when will hit the ground and die in 45 seconds. And he hits the grounds in 44 seconds, that doesn't mean he won't hit the ground and die." It cold be the resolution of my tools wasn't fine enough, it could be a strong updraft I didn't know aboput. It could mean he was wearing parachute pants and the extra drag slowed him.,

                But that does not make my model wrong, broken, invalid or useless.

                • by ganjadude (952775)
                  ok, fair enough. i simplified my position too much when i said the model was wrong. My point i do believe remains however. my point was simply that there are variables that we are not aware of which could change the direction needed.

                  for example, lets say we find out that we are right, and we are to blame. but what if the planet has natural ways to rectify the situation that we do not understand? what if the planet is already doing "something" to fix the problem and we dont know it? what happens when we tr
                • I do believe you have an odd definition for excellent [drroyspencer.com].

              • by Xyrus (755017)

                All models are wrong. There is no such thing as a perfect model outside of trivial classroom models e.g. spherical cow. Modeling fluid dynamics for aerodynamic lift, structural integrity models for bridges and buildings, etc . all have errors. They don't account for all variables and it is impossible to do so.

                Science isn't built on models. Models are built on science. As with any other branch of science models are used to help get a better understanding of the phenomena being studied. Models are TOOLS that

          • Re:Global Warming? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by blue9steel (2758287) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:47PM (#47750069)
            That's one possible interpretation. On the other hand this could be an early sign that the current modest levels of man made global warming are triggering a clathrate gun similar to that which may have caused the Permian-Triassic extinction event. It's fairly common for complex natural systems to have "tipping points" where a slow series of gradual changes suddenly goes parabolic before settling into a new stable dynamic.
          • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

            by geekoid (135745)

            " meaning AGW MAY NOT be the doom and gloom some make it out to be. "
            wrong.
            It means AGW "doom and gloom": could be worse the thought, nut not better then thought.

            "but it leads credence to the idea that we still have no idea"
            That is in no way true.

          • by dnavid (2842431)

            interesting.... however the problem lies in the fact thats it is higher than they thought, meaning it COULD still be worse than they thought, meaning AGW MAY NOT be the doom and gloom some make it out to be. this little bit of information is not a gotcha moment, but it leads credence to the idea that we still have no idea

            Scientists discover something new, which suggests they were wrong before, which means they could be completely wrong about everything. Just like when scientists discovered a new species of butterfly, proving we still have no idea if life exists on Earth.

            Only for the subject of global warming can scientists discover a potentially new way in which climate change could accelerate over time due to man induced warming of the deep oceans, and that is used as evidence that maybe its not happening at all.

        • nice selective choice from the article.

          The VERY NEXT SENTENCE:

          He is more interested in what will happen as the world warms. “It becomes interesting only if you have a catastrophic release,” he says.

          emphasis mine. i.e. it's slow now but if temps go up it becomes catastrophic.

    • by bobbied (2522392)

      Is this part of the "man made" global warming thing?

      Oh yea.. Personally, I think we should go drill said areas, use fracking and recover the methane before it gets loose....

      As a side benefit, we can burn the stuff for fuel... Hey, it's being released anyway, so why not?

    • Is this part of the "man made" global warming thing?

      It's both. That's the trouble with climate change... it's a very very complex issue. The earth has its own rythems going on and we're throwing a wrench in them. How much is natural? How much is our fault? It's hard to say. But make no mistake... we're poking a very large... very angry bear. The less poking we do the better. It may wake up on its own but we sure as heck don't need to be helping.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:15PM (#47749755)

    That methane dissolves into the water long before it reaches the surface and re-emerges, I would be surprised if even a small percentage of it make it to the atmosphere because bacteria would consume the dissolved methane before it can reach the surface. Even in the atmosphere where there is very little life the methane only lasts a couple decades, but in the ocean where it's teaming with life I doubt very little of it makes it to the surface.

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:15PM (#47749757) Homepage Journal

    A lot of people discuss this notion, and it's only rarely contextualized in terms of what's actually happening.

    Methane is big. A huge greenhouse gas. It knocks the socks of carbon in all ways except that there's not that much of it(yet). It also doesn't "clean up" nearly as nicely after a couple of centuries of forest expansion/ocean calcification.

    And a lot of evidence suggests warmer temperatures are going to release more big-time. It's scary because: we can't just stop producing it in bulk like CO2 the heat will release a lot of it naturally(and keep warming things). It's scary because: we have no (economically plausible) geo-engineering solutions like we might have to CO2. It's scary because geologic history suggests the runaways in the past last on the order of thousands of years.

    We really really really don't want this.

    • Just a passing though; A large release would not happen all at once & might be offset to some extent by a large explosion in the microbial life that "devours" this stuff.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Which would add it increase CO2 levels for what they eat and increased methane from what they didn't eat.

        • But they don't seem to worry about the CO2 production when discussing the 'devouring' of the known releases, so maybe they missed that. Isn't CO2 a much less potent greenhouse gas, and won't a lot of it still remain dissolved? Just stuff the models should factor in.
    • by slew (2918)

      We really really really don't want this.

      We really really really don't have a choice, do we?
      Historically, this stuff just happens...
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

      • This stuff "just happens" over the course of literally millions of years(from your own links). Not a couple hundred.

    • If you read the article there is a statement that the methane is converted to CO2 before it reaches the surface. It is a fuel source after all.

      The thing is, where else is this going on? Like those mysterious holes [washingtonpost.com] in Russia?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by starless (60879)

      Methane is big. A huge greenhouse gas. It knocks the socks of carbon in all ways except that there's not that much of it(yet). It also doesn't "clean up" nearly as nicely after a couple of centuries of forest expansion/ocean calcification.

      Actually, I believe the the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere is a lot less than that of CO2. So, although it's a more "potent" greenhouse gas, the long term effects of CO2 are worse because of CO2's longer lifetime.
      See e.g. this article on the effects of methane compared to CO2.
      http://www.realclimate.org/ind... [realclimate.org]
      When methane is released chronically, over decades, the concentration in the atmosphere will rise to a new equilibrium value. It won’t keep rising indefinitely, like CO2 would, because meth

    • by danlip (737336)

      It also doesn't "clean up" nearly as nicely after a couple of centuries of forest expansion/ocean calcification.

      Methane has less than a 9 year lifetime [wikipedia.org] in the atmosphere. Still bad, but very different from what you imply.

      • by sycodon (149926)

        So the world will be really, really stinky for about 9 years?

        • by Lotana (842533)

          Methane is odorless.

          Gas you use to warm up your house has impurities added to it to make it smell: This is for safety so that you will detect a leak before you pass out.

          Methane in farts is not what causes the smell. It is the other gasses.

          Alas, since the most common experience people have with methane is household gas, this misunderstanding persists.

    • by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Monday August 25, 2014 @02:04PM (#47750249)

      Methane may be 23 x more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2, but it's also much shorter lived. Which is really worse?

  • Feedback loops (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ralph Wiggam (22354) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:16PM (#47749769) Homepage

    Nature usually creates negative feedback loops that contribute to equilibrium. The textbook one is if there is population growth in a prey species, the population of predators will increase to check that growth.

    In this case we have a positive feedback loop. Increases in temperature will cause more methane hydrate to melt, which causes an increase in temperature.

    This is a very not good situation that does not have easy solutions.

    • Well, no, the earth does have negative feedback loops. We can see them in the historical records the deniers like to somewhat mindlessly cite for "natural cycles".

      Depending on the scale of the runaway, those factors can just take thousands to millions of years to kick in.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by HornWumpus (783565)

      This is something where engineers know things that climate scientists apparently don't.

      If the positive feedback was so strong, that the system was unstable (right half plane as it were) the earth would already be Venus. Doesn't stop climatologists talking out of the butts and proposing just such strong positive feed-backs.

      TL;DR; Don't ask a climatologist a control systems question and expect a reasonable answer.

      • by Ralph Wiggam (22354) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:29PM (#47749897) Homepage

        As the other reply points out- there are negative influences that do check the process and prevent the Earth from becoming Venus.

        Unfortunately for us, they take hundreds of thousands of years to happen.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        "This is something where engineers know things that climate scientists apparently don't."
        My sig applies to you.

        Idiot.

      • by MattskEE (925706)

        This is something where engineers know things that climate scientists apparently don't.

        If the positive feedback was so strong, that the system was unstable (right half plane as it were) the earth would already be Venus. Doesn't stop climatologists talking out of the butts and proposing just such strong positive feed-backs.

        TL;DR; Don't ask a climatologist a control systems question and expect a reasonable answer.

        Real engineers know that reality is rarely a linear system represented only by poles and zeros.

    • There is a feedback control that may help mitigate a small portion of the effect already, humidity. Water vapor concentrations in the atmosphere contribute to warming.... until they are concentrated enough so that the albedo effect kicks in ( clouds reflecting sunlight away ).

      That isn't to say that it will be the panacea in any way, shape, or form though - since it will barely have an over-all effect short term. I was merely pointing out one tiny feedback check that is going on as we speak.

      • We could create permanent cloud cover to block out the sun. That would have the added side effect of stopping the solar-powered robot menace, though perhaps it would drive them to find a more sinister power source.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Which would do nothing to save us as a species.

  • Could this be related to the pacific light seen by pilots while flying across the pacific? http://www.pbase.com/flying_du... [pbase.com]
  • fish farts are making the earth hotter
  • by Anonymous Coward

    From TFA, they discovered these plumes and this is the first time they have mapped this much area.

    That means they have a starting point, one datum for how much methane is coming from these areas. That's nice. Now keep measuring on an annual basis.

    If you think this means "global warming", it's not even as bad as measuring the temperature in the morning and mid-day to prove your point. It's as bad as measuring the temperature ad mid-day and extrapolating through that one point.

  • by madhatter256 (443326) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:30PM (#47749911)

    Regardless if it is all naturally occurring seepage or if man contributed to exacerbating seepage, we must still be taxed to pay not just carbon credits but methane credits.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Methane offgassing from submarine frozen methane (clathrates) has been well known for a long time. The freezing point of methane is a function of both pressure and temperature. As pressure is increased, the freezing point also increases. As sea level rises, pressure at the seabed increases and offgassing decreases. So if seabed methane is a contributor to global warming, then it will cause sea level rise, thus limiting itself. Conversely, if the climate cools, then icecaps expand and sea level drops,

    • As sea level rises, pressure at the seabed increases and offgassing decreases. So if seabed methane is a contributor to global warming, then it will cause sea level rise, thus limiting itself

      With what coefficient, though? Will it decrease significantly before London, Netherlands, and major West Coast and East Coast cities are under water? Sea bed is really deep, a few meters of extra water isn't going to change anything.

    • by Nimey (114278)

      Therefore we can ignore it and I can keep driving my SUV that gets 10 MPG to the grocery store. Suck it, liberals!

    • The average depth of the ocean is ~4000 meters. Sea level has gone up, what, a few inches? Fuck. For argument sake call it 2 whole meters. According to Wolfram, The water column pressure for 4000m is 392.266 bars. the water column pressure for 4002m is 392.462. Are you saying that two-tenths of a bar is going to make an appreciable difference in the freezing point of methane? Same goes for temperature. The mass of the oceans is ~1.33 x 10^21 kg. The mass of the earth's atmosphere is 5.14 x 10^18. Meaning t
  • I have to agree with conservatives on one point: we don't know enough about Earth to make any reliable predictions.

    Maybe the Earth will somehow balance itself and the warming will level out. Or trigger positive feedback mechanisms that accelerate warming and/or change. We just don't know.

    However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about altering the "normal" path. It's pretty clear we are gambling big-time via pollution and green-house gasses.

    Some of the more thoughtful conservatives say we should

  • Blimey, in about 1998 this old guy from the Jo-Hos knocked on my door and presented me with some literature including something about how "all scientists" believe in god, especially the Great Fred Hoyle, so God must be there.

    It also said that "scientists are telling us" about this vast, untapped wealth of hydrocarbon deposits on the deep sea beds in the form of these methane thingy-ma-bobs, so God had provided us with all the energy we'll ever need. He's a great guy that God dude! He didn't mention atmosphe

  • So this is clearly an environmental story. Methane is Bad News for the Earth. But it's also useful as a fuel; it's the primary component of natural gas. So why don't we have energy companies go out to where the leaks are and harvest them? I know that deep ocean extraction isn't exactly easy, but there must be at least some money to be made. And hey, it would just so happen to prevent this deadly greenhouse gas from contributing to climate change (as much, as it would still contribute some if burned for fuel

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