For the first time in history, in Antarctica, scientists have detected an active leak of methane from the seabed. This is a process that is likely to accelerate global warming.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change and warms the planet much faster than carbon dioxide.
Scientists have long feared the risk of leaking from under the ice, but they believe that methane was probably consumed by certain microorganisms before rising into the atmosphere.
However, new discoveries question the effectiveness of the process in this Antarctic.
According to the researchers, the methane leak was first discovered in 2011 and it took five years for the microorganisms that consume this gas to grow in the area.
Researchers have found that although these creatures have already spread in this area, methane still escapes into the atmosphere.
“It’s not really good news. It took five years for the germs to emerge, and after that, methane still escapes from the seabed, ”said Andrew Turber, an oceanographer at Oregon State University.
According to Turber, the first microbes to grow in this area were an unexpected strain, and it could take up to ten years for their community to fully adapt to the environment and start consuming methane.
Large amounts of methane are stored under sea ice. As researchers note, Antarctica holds a quarter of the Earth’s marine methane reserves.
Scientists have long feared the impact of methane leaks on the planet in the event of a leak; The cause of the leak can be melting ice and rising global temperatures.
In 2018, NASA warned that melting ice in the Arctic could release methane and other gases, contributing to even faster warming of the planet.
The release of methane from ice is also considered a turning point in climate change, beyond which it is no longer possible to stop or reverse the effects of rising temperatures.
However, no active methane leaks have been reported in the Antarctic region so far.
Researchers say that it seems that in this case, this gas is not released as a result of global warming, because the Ross Sea, where the leak takes place, has not warmed up significantly.
“The ultimate source of this methane is still unknown,” said the study authors.
The publication says that this discovery will deepen the knowledge of science about the consumption and release of methane in Antarctica, which has so far been scarcely studied.
According to the researchers, the fact that no such methane leakage has been observed so far has hampered our understanding of the processes that regulate methane emissions in Antarctica.
According to them, a better study of how microorganisms act will inform scientists about how methane is released as temperatures rise in the oceans.
The scientists point out that this study shows how unintended the impact and change of microorganisms can be on the release of greenhouse gases from marine methane reservoirs.
“Our results suggest that future models of global climate could be improved if we take into account the time that microbial communities need in response to a new source of methane,” the researchers wrote.
However, additional studies can take a long time. Subsequent expeditions by researchers failed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.