Greenhouse Methane Released From Ice Age Ocean

Aug 29, 2006

Periods of warming temperatures during the last ice age triggered the release of methane from beneath the ocean, according to U.S. and French researchers. Once in the atmosphere, the methane would have acted as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas.

"This is a new source of methane which has not been looked at before," said Tessa Hill, now assistant professor of geology at UC Davis and at the university's Bodega Marine Laboratory.

Off the California coast -- and elsewhere around the world -- natural petroleum seeps release oil, tar and gas into the bottom of the ocean. Some methane gas finds its way to the surface, while the tar sinks back to the bottom.

Methane is also generated in marine sediments by bacteria and other organisms. Much of the biological methane remains at the sea floor in a chemically "frozen" form.

During 2002, Hill, then a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, and colleagues sampled ocean sediments off California from a French government research vessel, the R/V Marion Dufresne.

Looking at sediments laid down during the past 30,000 years, they measured the amount of tar left behind by methane seepage and also the temperature at the ocean surface as recorded by the oxygen isotopes included in the shells of tiny sea animals.

Methane emissions peaked between 16,000 to 14,000 years ago and again 11,000 to 10,000 years ago, both periods when glaciers were melting and the ocean was warming.

"Tar deposition lines up with significant periods of warming," Hill said.

The warming climate between glaciations might have destabilized the "frozen" biological methane, causing changes in the sea floor, such as landslides, that increased seepage from below the surface, Hill said. Adding more methane to the atmosphere would have increased the warming trend.

Such natural methane seeps are present around the world, Hill said. Throughout the past several thousand years while climate has been stable, seepage has been relatively constant, but it might increase if the oceans warm significantly.

The other authors on the paper are James P. Kennett, David L. Valentine and Zuag Yang, from UCSB; Chris M. Reddy and Robert K. Nelson, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Richard J. Behl, California State University Long Beach; and Christian Robert and Luc Beaufort, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France.

The work is published online Aug. 28 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. It was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and UCSB.

Source: UC Davis

Explore further: Better forecasts for sea ice under climate change

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Studying wetlands as a producer of greenhouse gases

Jul 22, 2014

(Phys.org) —Wetlands are well known for their beneficial role in the environment. But UConn Honors student Emily McInerney '15 (CAHNR) is studying a less widely known role of wetlands – as a major producer ...

Greenhouse gas chemistry

Nov 30, 2010

If fossil fuels burn completely, the end products are carbon dioxide and water. Today the carbon dioxide is a waste product, one that goes into the air -- adding to global warming; or the oceans -- acidifying ...

Leaking Siberian ice raises a tricky climate issue

Nov 21, 2010

(AP) -- The Russian scientist shuffles across the frozen lake, scuffing aside ankle-deep snow until he finds a cluster of bubbles trapped under the ice. With a cigarette lighter in one hand and a knife in ...

Recommended for you

Better forecasts for sea ice under climate change

6 hours ago

University of Adelaide-led research will help pinpoint the impact of waves on sea ice, which is vulnerable to climate change, particularly in the Arctic where it is rapidly retreating.

"Ferrari of space' yields best map of ocean currents

14 hours ago

A satellite dubbed the "Ferrari of space" has yielded the most accurate model of ocean circulation yet, boosting understanding of the seas and a key impact of global warming, scientists said Tuesday.

Researcher studies deformation of tectonic plates

17 hours ago

Sean Bemis put his hands together side by side to demonstrate two plates of the earth's crust with a smooth boundary running between them. But that boundary is not always smooth and those plates do not always ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.