Gulf Oil isn't All that's Leaking…

Frozen depositories are giving up methane to the sea

Here are three reports, just in case we are forgetting other potential (& growing) catastrophic possibilities in our environment while focusing on BP’s crimes against the planet in the Gulf:

1) Methane release ‘looks stronger’

By Michael Fitzpatrick
Science reporter, BBC News

Scientists have uncovered what appears to be a further dramatic increase in the leakage of methane gas that is seeping from the Arctic seabed.

Methane is about 20 times more potent than CO2 in trapping solar heat.

The findings come from measurements of carbon fluxes around the north of Russia, led by Igor Semiletov from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

“Methane release from the East Siberian Shelf is underway and it looks stronger than it was supposed [to be],” he said.

Professor Semiletov has been studying methane seepage in the region for the last few decades, and leads the International Siberian Shelf Study (ISSS), which has launched multiple expeditions to the Arctic Ocean. The preliminary findings of ISSS 2009 are now being prepared for publication, he told BBC News. Methane seepage recorded last summer was already the highest ever measured in the Arctic Ocean.

High seepage

Acting as a giant frozen depository of carbon such as CO2 and methane (often stored as compacted solid gas hydrates), Siberia’s shallow shelf areas are increasingly subjected to warming and are now giving up greater amounts of methane to the sea and to the atmosphere than recorded in the past.

METHANE HYDRATES

  • Methane gas is trapped inside a crystal structure of water-ice
  • The gas is released when the ice melts, normally at 0C
  • At higher pressure, ie under the ocean, hydrates are stable at higher temperatures
  • This undersea permafrost was until recently considered to be stable.

    But now scientists think the release of such a powerful greenhouse gas may accelerate global warming.

    Higher concentrations of atmospheric methane are contributing to global temperature rise; this in turn is projected to cause further permafrost melting and the release of yet more methane in a feedback loop.

    A worst-case scenario is one where the feedback passes a tipping point and billions of tonnes of methane are released suddenly, as has occurred at least once in the Earth’s past.

    Such sudden releases have been linked to rapid increases in global temperatures and could have been a factor in the mass extinction of species.

    According to a report by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), the springtime air temperature across the region in the period 2000-2007 was an average of 4C higher than during 1970-1999.

    (for full report click here)

    2) Methane in Gulf “astonishingly high”: U.S. scientist

    By Julie Steenhuysen

    CHICAGO (Reuters) – As much as 1 million times the normal level of methane gas has been found in some regions near the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, enough to potentially deplete oxygen and create a dead zone, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday.

    Texas A&M University oceanography professor John Kessler, just back from a 10-day research expedition near the BP Plc oil spill in the gulf, says methane gas levels in some areas are “astonishingly high.”

    (for full report click here)

    3) Also check out the following report in the Huffington post, here, titled Gulf Oil Gusher: Danger of Tsunamis From Methane? — which starts:

    “A new and less well known asymmetric threat has surfaced in the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher. Methane or CH4 gas is being released in vast quantities in the Gulf waters. Seismic data shows huge pools of methane gas at the location immediately below and around the damaged “Macondo” oil well. Methane is a colourless, odourless and highly flammable substance which forms a major component in natural gas. This is the same gas that blew the top off Deepwater Horizon and killed 11 people. The “flow team” of the US Geological Survey estimates that 2,900 cubic feet of natural gas, which primarily contains methane, is being released into the Gulf waters with every barrel of oil. The constant flow of over 50,000 barrels of crude oil places the total daily amount of natural gas at over 145 million cubic feet. So far, over 8 billion cubic feet may have been released, making it one of the most vigorous methane eruptions in modern human history. If the estimates of 100,000 barrels a day — that have emerged from a BP internal document — are true, then the estimates for methane gas release might have to be doubled.”

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