A routine survey of the U.S. Atlantic Coastline recently revealed a strange phenomenon. Multitudes of gas plumes were seen bubbling up to the ocean surface, and though the gas has yet to be analyzed, scientists are almost certain that it is methane.
"We don’t know of any explanation that fits as well as methane," said lead study author Adam Skarke, a geologist at Mississippi State University in Mississippi State.
The results of the survey were published on Aug. 24 in the journal Nature Geoscience, and have surprised experts. Seabed vents slowly release vast stores of the methane hydrates which have been trapped underground for thousands of years; they are common around the world, but historically, only three natural gas seeps had been found off the East Coast before 2012.
"It was a surprise to find these features," Skarke said. "It was unexpected because many of the common things associated with methane gas do not exist on the Atlantic margin."
Sonar and video data collated by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration ship Okeanos Explorer between 2011 and 2013 suggests that methane seeps out in around eight regions between North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras and Massachusetts’ Georges Bank.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington In Norfolk canyon off the coast of Virginia, discovered the largest methane seep ever found in the Atlantic Ocean, and possibly the world. A study published on Nov. 24 in the journal Nature Geoscience revealed that about 17 teragrams of methane, was escaping each year from a broad, shallow underwater platform called the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Natalia Shakova, lead study author and a biogeochemist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks explained that a teragram is equal to about 1.1 million tons, so considering that the world emits about 500 million tons of methane every year from manmade and natural sources, the contribution from this one source of methane represented a significant threat to the environment, being more than double previous estimates.
"We believe that release of methane from the Arctic, in particular, from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, could impact the entire globe, not just the Arctic alone," Shakova told LiveScience. "The picture that we are trying to understand is what is the actual contribution of the [shelf] to the global methane budget and how it will change over time."
The latest emissions from the East Coast are a further surprise, as this area is regarded as a passive margin, that has not been disturbed by plate tectonic activity for tens of millions of years, so few fissures have been created as outflows for methane gases.
"I usually describe passive margins as cold, old and boring," said study co-author Carolyn Ruppel, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey gas hydrates project in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
The salt layers normally linked to oil and gas reserves are also absent, so the presence of methane in this area is a surprise, and without further investigation researchers can’t say for sure why they are there:
"It’s a huge research area that needs to be pursued," Ruppel said.
The discovery opens up the possibility of thousands more undetected underground methane reservoirs along the East Coast and in other places around the world.
"These processes may be happening in places we didn’t expect them," Skarke said, but added that it was uncertain whether these could be utilised:
"We have no evidence to suggest this material would be a recoverable resource. There is no evidence whatsoever that there are conventional deep-seated oil and gas reservoirs underneath the Atlantic margin."
So what impact could this release of trapped methane reserves have on the environment?
The sudden increase in methane that will result is likely to radically change the earth’s climate in the near future. Methane is a far more dangerous global warming gas than carbon dioxide; it dissipates more rapidly, but it traps heat 20 times more efficiently. Therefore any dramatic increase in methane would cause a significant and unpredictable increase in heat that is not factored into most global warming models, as they do not take sudden methane release into consideration.
The situation is self-exacerbating, as millions of tons of methane are frozen in Arctic permafrost, both on land and in the seafloor, so several studies have warned that any rapid warming in the Arctic could upset these deposits, melting them and freeing the gas. This would undoubtedly increase the planet’s greenhouse gas levels and accelerate climate change.
Though the East Coast methane leak is not thought to pose a significant risk in itself, it is hoped that it will provide a test area that may help scientists to assess future risks:
"Now we have a study site where we can monitor these locations and see how they change," said David Valentine, a geochemist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the study. "Finally we have a place where we can begin to address some of the questions about how water temperatures are influencing methane."
Whether assessing this risk will ultimately be able to reduce its impact is unlikely; a draft of a new UN report seen by The New York Times is already warning that our planet is at risk of "severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts" if the world’s governments don’t quickly alter their course and do more to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases.
The report, which was drafted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says that global temperature have already reached a point at which the ice sheet covering Greenland is expected to begin melting. This will then be an unstoppable process that could raise global sea levels by 23 feet and bring other extremes of climate including heat waves and torrential rain.
The report suggests that there is a chance that the process could be halted if global governments take action now, but some of the world’s largest economies have yet to make any major changes in their environmental policies.Even in the US, President Obama’s propositions to set national limits on greenhouse gases have faced fierce opposition at all levels of government. Overall, emissions in most Western countries are said to be falling, but this reduction is being counter-balanced by the explosion of new industries in developing countries such as China. The IPCC says it is already too late to avoid any climactic impact, and that large-scale climatic shifts are inevitable, and the additional threat posed by methane emissions is not included in this overview of the situation.
Nevertheless, we must continue to take steps to do what we can to avert this global disaster.If you want to try and take some action against climate change, consider supporting the organisation Avaaz, who is about to launch the biggest climate change mobilisation in history, with marches from New York to Paris to Rio. On September 21st, they intend to try and shake the world, and want to mobilise thousands of organisers, saturate subways and airwaves with ads, and mount an effective media operation.
Also check out Whitley Strieber’s latest journal entry for his personal comments regarding this serious threat to our planet.
If there really is no way to halt the avalanche of factors that are contributing to climate change, then does mankind have any other options?
We could potentially decamp and colonise another life-supporting planet, should such an environment be found in time, though evacuating the entire population of planet earth would be totally unfeasible. Perhaps all we can do is take steps to reduce our personal contributions to global warming, and then hope for the very best. In truth, hoping for the best may not be such a bad idea; a previous Unknown Country article considered the channeled messages received from a group of inter-dimensional, intergalactic beings known as the Hathors.
The Hathors suggest that, with a little practise, we all have the ability to create and move to a timeline with a more desirable outcome. They described two significant timelines that are currently existing independently of our creation: in one there is what they call the "New Earth", a very different dimension of experience than our current reality where the Earth is deeply honored and held in gratitude by humanity, which understands the truth that all life is interconnected. Here mankind is in control of its own destiny.
The other timeline is on a collision course with doom and destruction. The important thing is that every person who believes in the timeline of doom, destruction and horror will add to its reality, whereas everyone who holds as real the timeline of the New Earth will add to its reality.Perhaps if enough of us believe in and work towards a more positive outcome, we truly can alter Earth’s timeline and avert global disaster.
Who knows? If there truly are no other viable and practical solutions available to mankind in the face of this impending doom, then surely we must look outside our limited comprehensions for a more esoteric answer.
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