The Methane Monster
- 21 Sep 06, 03:14 PM
Be afraid. be very afraid. For lurking at the bottom of our oceans is a huge monster that has been lying dormant for thousands of years. And yet, global warming may just serve as an alarm clock that upon waking this behemoth would cause it to bellow its vast and smelly methane breath into the atmosphere, accelerating the current warming trend still further.
OK, got a bit carried away there, but how else to introduce what I find a fascinating story about gas hydrates! Honestly..stick with me here!
I recently returned from a lengthy foray around the west coast of the USA and parts of the Sierras joining scientists out in the field where I was either bouncing around on a marine research vessel in Monterey Bay or catching and counting chipmunks and mice in the spectacular Lassen Volcanic National Park. Along the way, at the University of California at Santa Barbara to be exact, I met geological scientist Jim Kennet, a fascinating Kiwi, who is something of a controversial figure in the esoteric world of gas hydrates.
Jim's "calthrate gun" hypothesis proposes that past shifts from glacial to interglacial times were caused by a massive decomposotion of the marine methane hydrate deposits that get released into the atmosphere. The methane hydrate is locked in vast frozen reservoirs of ice at the bottom of the oceans. Accoring to Jim, warmer ocean temperatures from current global climate change is likely to release this methane by thawing the ice reservoirs.
What's alarming about this is that we tend to think of climate change as gradual, a perceived shift in treeline up the mountain, or a slow move north for the red fox for instance, but here we are talking about a switch that is either on or off. If the ocean temperature reaches a certain temperature threshold, that could literally switch on the release of vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere which as a green house gas is twenty times more potent than CO2. The methane would then act as a poitive feedback loop, trapping more heat in the atmophere and accelerating the warming process.
It's not just speculation either. Divers from UC Santa Barbara recenty witnessed and video taped one such massive blow out in the Santa Barbara basin. They said it sounded like a freight train. Fascinating. Yet it must be pointed out that Jim's hypotheis isn't mainstream thinking. I think I'm right in saying that most scientists in this field think that historically the majority of methane during global warming periods has come from marshlands around the world and not the sea.
Still the agrrement is that vast quantities of methane are released somehow and for me it is at the very least something else to worry about when going for a swim. I mean which would you rather be, stung by jelly fish, attacked by sharks or blown up by a huge marine fart!