Researchers have discovered a large methane leak in the Southern Ocean. Should the amount of gas emitted increase, scientists fear far-reaching consequences.
- Oregon State University scientists discovered a methane leak in Antarctica.
- So far, relatively little gas has escaped, but if the amount increases, the scientists fear bad things.
- Little is known about the Antarctic methane - and the gas has a large share in the greenhouse effect.
Munich - In the Southern Ocean , researchers have discovered a huge methane leak . The potentially dangerous gas has been flowing undetected for several years from a hole at the bottom of the sea. It is the first leak of its kind in Antarctica that the scientists have found, reports Focus Online. The amount of gas escaping is still relatively small, but the find is worrying the researchers, according to the report.
Because methane is far more harmful to the climate than the better known carbon dioxide (CO2). According to the Federal Environment Agency , methane contributed up to 16.4 percent to the greenhouse effect last year. Methane has a much stronger effect on the climate than the CO2 from burning fossil fuels.
Methane leak in Antarctica: researchers are puzzled
The leak that the researchers have now discovered is in a bay in the Ross Sea , more precisely in McMurdo Sound, at a depth of around ten meters. It was first noticed by divers in 2011, but it was not scientifically researched until 2016 . Now researchers around the microbiologist Andrew Thurber from Oregon State University have presented their worrying results.
The source of the methane is apparently algae, which have settled on the sea floor over thousands of years and have been covered by sediments. These algae are now decomposing. It is estimated that around a quarter of methane is found in soils under the sea in Antarctica. When exactly the leak occurred on the seabed and, above all, why, is unclear. Study leader Andrew Thurber told the Guardian it was a mystery the researchers still had no answer to. "It is on the flank of an active underwater volcano, but the location does not seem to be the cause of the leak."
Methane leak in the Antarctic Ross Sea: researchers describe their results as "incredibly worrying"
The global warming rather play a subordinate role. The Ross Sea has hardly got any warmer in recent years. But should the water temperatures rise there too, the gas could be released on a large scale. However, the researchers identified another cause for concern: microbes normally colonize such sources on the sea floor. These microorganisms specialize in methane and use the gas as an energy source.
Not so with the leak in the Ross Sea. The microbes settled there very slowly, according to the researchers. They also grew in small numbers. The authors of the study suspect that the bacterial population is at an early stage - it could take five or even ten years for it to adapt to the environment and absorb the escaping methane.
A mysterious #methane leak on the bottom of the #SouthernOcean could be a “tipping point”. The reason for this leak is still unknown. Here's one best guess. @PeterMcKillop #ClimateEmergency #ClimateAndCapitalhttps: //t.co/iIkQFLfUjV- Climate & Capital Media (@ClimateandCap) August 4, 2020
The release of methane from underwater reservoirs is considered a critical point for climate change. In extreme cases, the ecosystem could tip over - this is what scientists call the process in which global warming intensifies itself through positive feedback . “Something that we as a society have to worry about,” Thurber said. “In fact, I find it incredibly worrying.” After all, little is known about Antarctic methane.
The researchers' findings come at a time when one terrifying news for the climate follows the next. All temperature records have just been broken in Siberia, and the Arctic is as warm as it has been in 40 years. The forests are drying up or burning up.
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