Are methane hydrates now dissolving?

Are methane hydrates now dissolving?
Posted on August 17, 2012
August 17, 2012 –ARCTIC CIRCLE - West of Spitsbergen methane gas is effervescing out of the seabed. Is this an indication that methane hydrates in the seabed are dissolving due to rising temperatures? And what would the effects be? An expedition with the German research vessel MARIA S. MERIAN and the submersible JAGO lead by GEOMAR | Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel hopes to help answer these questions. The expedition began this week in Reykjavik. The average temperatures of the atmosphere are rising; the average temperatures of the oceans, too. Not only living organisms react sensitively to these changes. The transitional zones between shallow shelf seas and the deep sea at continental slopes store a huge amount of methane hydrates in the sea bed. These specific, ice-like compounds only forms at low temperatures and under high pressure. When the water temperature directly above the sea bed rises, some of the methane hydrates could dissolve and release the previously bound methane. ‘This scenario incorporates two fears: Firstly that enormous amounts of this very powerful greenhouse gas will be released into the atmosphere, and secondly that the continental slopes may become unstable” explains the geophysicist Professor Christian Berndt from GEOMAR, Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. He is leading an expedition starting today on the German research vessel MARIA S. MERIAN which will analyse the sea off the western shore of Spitsbergen in order to find out whether the first methane hydrates in the sea bed are dissolving and what the consequences might be. The expedition builds on research conducted by marine scientists from Kiel who worked in this area of the sea in 2008. Back then they found over 250 places where gas was escaping the sea bed. “These spots lie directly on the border of the area of stable hydrates” explains Professor Berndt. “Therefore we presume that the hydrates are dissolving from the rim inwards.” During the upcoming expedition, the scientists from Kiel will be working together with colleagues from Bremen, Switzerland, Great Britain and Norway to discover whether the gas emanation shows signs of dissolved hydrates and whether this is due to warmer sea beds. –Terra Daily

Aug 16, 2012

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