Giant Methane Mass Over The Southwest Baffles Scientists

A giant methane mass over the Southwest United States has scientists baffled. According to reports, the existence of the mass was confirmed by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Although the source is unknown, the giant methane mass was present over the Southwest for at least six years. As reported by Christian Science Monitor, the mass is “about half the size of Connecticut” and is located where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet.

Images of the mass were captured by a European satellite over a period of six years between 2003 and 2009. In a joint effort, researchers at the University of Michigan and NASA reviewed the data in an effort to identify the cause.

As discussed by the Environmental Defense Fund, methane is a naturally occurring gas often used as a source of fuel. Unfortunately, large quantities of methane are a threat to the environment.

“While methane doesn’t linger as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it is initially far more devastating to the climate because of how effectively it absorbs heat. In the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”

It is unclear whether the giant methane mass over the Southwest was released by a natural or man-made origin.

.@krqe at 10: Why does NM have the nation’s largest methane plume? @NASAJPL, @NOAA scientists are here to find out.

— Tina Jensen (@TinaJensenKRQE) April 9, 2015

Natural sources of methane gas include coal deposits and even large herds of cattle. However, larger quantities of methane gas are also released during coal mining, methane extraction, and gas and oil drilling.

Although the methane mass is not an immediate threat to residents of the Southwest, it may contribute to global warming.

As reported by Examiner, the data used in the study was collected prior to 2010. Therefore, it is entirely possible that the mass has dissipated or vanished entirely.

Unfortunately, the satellite used to collect the data “is no longer in commission.” However, Japan has agreed to capture images of the region with their GOSAT satellite.

Researchers are currently attempting to determine whether the mass still exists. The scientists will use planes to collect air samples, which will then be tested for methane.

If large quantities of methane are detected over specific areas, they will search the ground for a potential source.

The giant methane mass over the Southwest does not pose any immediate health threat. However, scientists are concerned about the long-term implications.

[Image via Shutterstock]