The mystery of the greenhouse gas trapped underneath the frozen land of Antarctica has perplexed scientists for years. But scientists have finally found the answer behind this conundrum. Don’t believe us? Then, read on. An enigma to scientists, the greenhouse gas in Antarctica has had researchers hustling day and night for answers. But recently an active methane seep from Antarctica’s sea bed has given scientists a new direction to their research.
Andrew Thurber, a marine Ecologist and an assistant professor at Oregon University, was absolutely mesmerized by the beauty of tiny clusters of microorganisms drawn to the methane leak on the ocean floor. His colleague describes it as the “microbial waterfall.” Thurber says, “My first thought was ‘wow,’ and I was immediately enamored with what this means for science.”
Scientists suggest that there is a huge storehouse of methane underneath the ocean floor in Antarctica. This is the first time in history that a natural seep has been detected in Antarctica. And the same was published on Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Scientists suggest that the good news is that global warming is not the reason behind this leak. Earlier, there were concerns if global warming can liquify the permafrost and lead to a methane leak. However, scientists have dismissed such claims.
Thurber suggests that microbes on the surface of the ocean consume methane before it can reach the atmosphere. Therefore, oceans only account for 1% of the global methane emissions. He further claims that past researches have focused on methane leaks occurring 200m – 600m below sea level. Hence, to reach the atmosphere, they have to pass through a lot of “microbe mouths” before it can reach the atmosphere.
The methane leak detected in Antarctica is only 10m below the sea level. Hence, the chances of methane reaching the atmosphere are a lot higher. Furthermore, microbes in cold and shallow water reach the surface of water slowly. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. High levels of methane in the atmosphere can exacerbate global warming. Human activities such as agriculture and fuel drilling are the largest contributors to the atmospheric methane levels.
Thurber says, “We need to view these as systems that don’t respond in a matter of days or an hour or a month, but on the time scale of years. As years start to add up, that becomes something that may potentially impact our ability to see the future planet.” Karla Hiedelberg, microbiologist at National Science Foundation, says, “As the ice coverage changes, it could expose more of these seeps to become potential inputs to atmospheric carbon. If those become destabilized, you would have a massive pulse of methane into the atmosphere that would cause more climate change.”
The Antarctic methane leak is a substantial discovery for scientists. It has opened up new doors to research and studies about global warming. Hopefully, with further research we will know soon about what this methane leak signifies.