On January 8, a powerful odor of escaping gas blanketed much of southern New Jersey and New York. It was strong enough to cause buildings to be shut down, and for all emergency services in the area to be swamped with 911 calls. It may have been a phenomenon linked to global warming.

Despite the fact that a very substantial quantity of gas would have been involved, none of the gas utilities in the region reported a pressure drop in their systems. Another possibility is a release of mercaptan, the substance used to create an odor in natural gas, which normally is odorless. Again, no such release has been reported. There were initial concerns that terrorists might have opened gas mains, but this proved to be unfounded. Another possibility might be that terrorists were using mercaptan to trace possible routes that a release of untreated natural gas might take.

However, there is yet another possibility that has not so far been discussed. This is that there is outgassing of methane from the Hudson Canyon, which stretches for 300 miles into the Atlantic at the mouth of the Hudson River. The walls of the Hudson Canyon are filled with methane “frozen” as a hydrate, and if sea water temperatures rise high enough, this methane will turn to a gas, rise to the surface, and enter the atmosphere. The methane in the Hudson Canyon is mixed with hydrogen sulfide, which has a “rotten egg” odor not dissimilar to mercaptan.

Should outgassing continue, the odor will return when wind conditions are right. On the morning the odor was noticed, winds were SSW at 3-5 MPH and there was a temperature inversion. These were ideal conditions for an event to take place like the one that occurred.

Methane is 21 times more powerful a “greenhouse” gas than carbon dioxide, and atmospheric methane spikes caused by outgassing from excessively warm oceans are believed to have resulted in atmospheric temperature spikes in the past that led to extreme and sudden climate change.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

When the earth changes, there is always a ripple effect?civilizations in the past experienced this and we will too. Let’s just say a prayer that we can clean up our act in time to prevent a disaster!

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