Monumental Methane Leaks Discovered Off East Coast Of U.S.

Monumental methane leaks have been discovered off the east coast of the United States according to a new paper published yesterday in Nature Geoscience.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the effect of methane gas on global warming is 20 times greater than the effects of carbon dioxide. Though methane has a considerably shorter shelf-life – so to speak – in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide, methane is much “more efficient at trapping radiation.”

Over 570 methane leaks have been found in the ocean floor of the eastern coast of the United States. The paper published yesterday says that the methane leaks are emitting over 90 tons of greenhouse gases every year. Previously, scientists only believed that there were three leaks in the Atlantic Ocean floor off the U.S. Coast, but this new research drastically shattered that belief. Scientists now believe there may be even more methane seeps, a lot more, posing a previously unknown source of damaging greenhouse emissions. The paper commented that scientists believe there may be tens of thousands more methane seeps, and put a guesstimate at around 30,000.

Methane gas seeps from the ocean floor

The journal, Nature, issued a press release yesterday, stating:

“Effects of these [methane] plumes on climate and ocean chemistry are not yet clear, but could extend well beyond the plumes themselves.”

The methane vents are found mostly at depths between 800 and 2,000 feet in the Atlantic Ocean. They’ve been located as far south as off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to the Georges Bank southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

The paper continued:

“Such [methane] seeps would represent a source of global seabed methane emissions that have not been fully accounted for in previous carbon budgets.”

Lead author of the paper, Adam Skarke of Mississippi State University, told NBC News that the seeps aren’t anything new, we just haven’t noticed them before.

“The fact that it’s there in the quantities that it is – and [that] it is exposed – suggests that indeed the processes at these locations have been going on… at least 1,000 years.”

So, what threat does this pose to the greenhouse effect and marine life in the ocean?

As to the marine life, the current effects are unknown, though since the methane leaks have been occurring for around a thousand years, if the effects were extremely detrimental, marine life has already adapted.

As to any effects the methane seeps might be having on the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere? For all its bluster, the paper actually says the effects are minimal at best.

Skarke said:

“The methane is dissolving into the ocean at depths of hundreds of meters and being oxidized into [carbon dioxide]. But it is important to say we simply don’t have any evidence in this paper to suggest that any carbon coming from these seeps is entering the atmosphere.”

So, for the moment, it seems that the effects of the monumental methane seeps are minimal. However, further study will continue on the methane seeps to pinpoint any and all effects on the environment.

images via NOAA