Methane Plumes off Spitsbergen

One of the nightmare climate change scenarios involves the sudden release of methane due to the decomposistion of methane hydrate beds in ocean sediments at northern latitudes. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, and there's some geological evidence that large-scale methane hydrate decomposition played a significant role in at least one previous warming event.

Well, it looks like it's happening.

"250 plumes" makes it sound big (and true enough, that's just what they saw, and that in only a small part of the ocean and a short period of time with limited equipment), but it's not that big, yet, really. And most of the gas is dissolving into the water before it gets to the service. So it's not such a big problem, right?

Well:

  1. It's just the beginning. Who knows what happens as the sea ice degrades further and the ocean warms still more.
  2. When methane dissolves into seawater, it makes the seawater more acid, which reduces the ocean's ability to buffer CO2.

This may be one of those moments you normally need hindsight to see.

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