Researchers fear a strange gas leak at the bottom of the Southern Ocean could have disastrous consequences for the climate
Weeks after a pocket of bizarrely pure air was discovered near Antarctica earlier this year, scientists have made another alarming discovery: a mysterious methane leak on the bottom of the Southern Ocean.
A study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that a large amount of methane could be trapped under the sea floor and also within Antarctica’s permafrost. Scientists fear that the melting of the permafrost, accelerated by rising temperatures in the region, can potentially release these harmful gases into the atmosphere. Experts say this outcome could be a “tipping point” after which the snowballing effects of climate change will be unstoppable.
The reason for this leak is still unknown. Experts have ruled out climate change as a factor as the temperature in the surrounding region of the Ross Sea has not greatly increased over the past few years. One possible culprit is algae deposits that have been buried under the ice for thousands of years. When these algae decay, they release methane gas into the surrounding atmosphere. However, this hypothesis cannot be confirmed at this point since the current conditions make the antarctic sea floor a dangerous territory to explore.
Although the exact cause for this phenomenon remains unknown, scientists believe that microbes could eventually help curb the leakage. “We’re probably in a successional stage, where it may be five to ten years before a community [of microbes] becomes fully adapted and starts consuming methane,” researcher Andrew Thurber told The Guardian.
Until then, Antarctic methane will likely continue flowing into the air.
Photo by Andrew Thurber, Oregon State University