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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) * on Monday August 25, 2014 @02:11PM (#47749729)

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

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Monday August 25, 2014 @02:15PM (#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 @02:15PM (#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.

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

    by Cardoor (3488091) on Monday August 25, 2014 @02:23PM (#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:Feedback loops (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HornWumpus (783565) on Monday August 25, 2014 @02:23PM (#47749837)

    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 Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2014 @02:27PM (#47749883)

    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 Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2014 @02:42PM (#47750025)

    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, causing increased methane offgassing. This a self-limiting scenario, not a positive feedback loop.

  • Re:Feedback loops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Monday August 25, 2014 @02:54PM (#47750135) Homepage Journal

    Nobody in climatology has said earth will end up like Venus. Zip Zilch. You won't find a climatologist saying that. Anywhere. If you can take the bullshit liars have said about this debate out of your mental image of the debate, you might end up eventually realizing exactly how you got the the crazy spot you're in.

  • Re:Feedback loops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday August 25, 2014 @03:10PM (#47750309) Homepage

    You are looking at the wrong end point. Yes, the planet will survive. Very few people are worried about that. You have to be a real doomer / gloomer to stay away worrying about Venus level runaway heating. But you can have a number of other scenarios that can be considered less than pleasant:

    - Intensifying the sixth [bbc.co.uk] major extinction event. The other five really changed the planet around, much to Randall's comfort [xkcd.com]. The planet will survive this next one but since apex predators tend to be significantly effected and humans are the ultimate apex predator, this might be considered a Bad Idea.
    - Increasing temperatures increase arable land (generally). The problem is that of time frames. It may take hundreds of thousands of years to convert warm swamps into farmland. Most Americans can't handle fasting between gas stations, much less millennia
    - Increasing resource stresses - you may have noticed that humans are having a bit of a problem creating stable geopolitical structures during geologically and biologically stable periods. Add big swings in weather / climate, no matter which way, creates more stressors and more reasons for us not to get along with each other.
    - Which segues into another bit of bad timing. Changing climate while simultaneously cranking human population to over seven billion. For a number of important resources it can be argued that we have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet. The degree and speed of upcoming climate events may well overcome our ability to feed, water and house all of us.

    So, it's not even a big issue which way the climate goes. The only way climate can mitigate the other problems is if it stays relatively constant. That doesn't appear to be happening.

  • Re:Global Warming? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gman003 (1693318) on Monday August 25, 2014 @03:23PM (#47750495)

    Stop arguing with strawmen. I really hope you got upvoted by shills, because the alternative is that some people have actually bought into the propaganda, which sickens me to consider.

    The science that is settled is:
    a) The average global temperature is rising
    b) Increased CO2 levels cause increased temperatures
    c) Humans are releasing far more CO2 than can naturally be absorbed

    Those are the settled science - or as most people call them, facts. You will see GW defenders trot out the "settled science" line because people still try to deny those fundamental facts.

    Those three facts lead to a settled conclusion:
    d) Human activity is causing increases in global temperature.

    Again, if you're arguing that, you are either grievously misinformed, or do not understand how logic works, or have decided that you want to argue for a point you know to be wrong.

    That humans are contributing is settled science. The extent to which we are contributing is mostly-settled - we know we are the largest factor, but we don't have a complete and clear picture as to how secondary effects (ie. global-warming-caused global warming) or natural effects (solar variance) affect things.

    The precise models of "given conditions A, B, C and D, what temperatures can we expect in the next X years at places Y and Z?" are not settled. Further, the data we give those models is not entirely precise, because getting absolute perfect knowledge of the entire planet is basically impossible.

    But this does not invalidate the entire argument. You can say "physicists don't know how gravity works for supermassive singularities at nuclear scales", and say that physics is not "settled science". You would be correct. However, if you try to use that to argue that scientists don't know why the Earth orbits the Sun, you're committing serious errors of logic.

    And if you then try to argue that you can build a giant but rickety skyscraper over the city, because it can't fall over because gravity isn't a settled science, well, you're just using broken logic to try to make a quick profit despite the fact that you will inevitably kill people when it falls over because hey, science may not be able to figure out the exact second it's going to collapse but we know it's not gonna stay up forever. I hope you managed to understand that metaphor there.

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

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Monday August 25, 2014 @03:25PM (#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.

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

    by budgenator (254554) on Monday August 25, 2014 @05:24PM (#47751735) Journal

    If the seeps are not growing in size or quantity, the atmospheric methane due to the seeps should remain constant, and the models should be unaffected.

    If the models underestimate the amount of methane, and the models have hard-coded adjustments to make the hindcasts agree with the temperature record, then the models underestimate the warming due to methane and over-estimate warming due to CO2; the models are wrong. There really isn't any other logical way to spin this.

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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