Methane leak is found on the Antarctic seabed for the first time

Hyperaxion Jul 22, 2020

Scientists have noted the absence of microorganisms that consume this gas, indicating that part of it is being released and entering the atmosphere.

In 2011, a group of divers exploring the Ross Sea, located in the Southern Ocean, south of New Zealand, saw something leaking out of the ground.

(Credit: Andrew Thurber, Oregon State University).

Five years later, in 2016, scientists began to investigate what the strange phenomenon was, and finally, in 2020, they found the answer: it was the first methane leak observed in that region of the world.

The research was led by Oregon State University in the United States and published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

A methane leak is a place where the substance, in its gaseous form, escapes from the underground reservoir into the ocean. Infiltrations of this type had already been observed in other regions of the world, but never in Antarctica.

Methane leak is found on the Antarctic seabed for the first time
(Credit: Andrew Thurber, Oregon State University).

“Methane is the second-most effective gas at warming our atmosphere and the Antarctic has vast reservoirs that are likely to open up as ice sheets retreat due to climate change,” said Andrew Thurber, research leader, in a statement.

However, according to the scientists, the leak is not necessarily related to global warming and more research is needed to better understand how the methane cycle works.

“This is a significant discovery that can help fill a large hole in our understanding of the methane cycle,” Thurber said.

The white layer indicates the presence of microorganisms associated with the presence of methane.
(Credit: Andrew Thurber, Oregon State University).

In addition, scientists noted the absence of microorganisms essential for maintaining the ecosystem. This would be an indication that part of the gas is being released and entering the atmosphere, which could further accelerate global warming.

“To add to the mystery of the Antarctic seeps, the microbes we found were the ones we least expected to see at this location,” Thurber said.

He believes that there may be a succession pattern for microbes, meaning that some groups arrive first and those that are most effective at consuming methane come later.

(Credit: Andrew Thurber, Oregon State University).

Thurber is particularly excited because this is a unique opportunity to study how ecosystems evolve in Antarctica.

According to him, “because of this discovery we can now uncover whether seeps just function differently in Antarctica or whether it may take years for the microbial communities to become adapted.”

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