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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Scientists just found telltale evidence of an ancient methane explosion in the Arctic

Scientists just found telltale evidence of an ancient methane explosion in the Arctic

More than 100 million years ago, a sudden period of global warming — possibly brought on by a series of volcanic eruptions — released a massive upwelling of previously frozen methane gas from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean into the water, new research suggests. And the discovery has scientists pondering whether human-caused climate change could cause it to happen again — and what the consequences would be.

Scientists have long debated whether methane venting from the seafloor is able to reach the surface. But even the possibility has some experts concerned. If a sudden surge of methane did manage to escape into the atmosphere today, there could be dire consequences for the global climate. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, whose climate-warming influence in the atmosphere is up to 30 times as strong as carbon dioxide over short time periods. Some scientists worry that a sudden, large release of methane could trigger a dangerous climate feedback loop, exacerbating global warming and causing even more gas to be released as a result.

“What’s been suggested as happening both in the geologic record and as a concern for the modern is you sort of have a runaway scenario,” said Stephen Grasby, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada, who contributed to the new research.

The good news is that many scientists believe that most methane leaking from the ocean floor is unlikely to make it into the atmosphere because it will get trapped or dissolve into the water column on the way up. And some research has also suggested that, despite rapid warming in the Arctic, a large-scale release of methane is unlikely to be triggered by modern climate change any time soon.

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