World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search

 

As Planet Edges Closer To Climate Tipping Points, Scientists Identify Methane Gas Leak In Antarctica

"It is not good news."

by Julia Conley

Scientists revealed Tuesday that they detected the first leak of methane gas from the sea floor beneath Antarctica. (Photo: mariusz kluzniak/flickr/cc)

Scientists have for the first time identified an active leak of methane gas from the sea floor in Antarctica, increasing the possibility that the planet is close to one of the "tipping points" that would put the impacts of global heating out of humans' control.

According to The Guardian, researchers led by Andrew Thurber at Oregon State University found the methane leak in a region known as Cinder Cones in McMurdo Sound, within the Ross Sea. The site is 30 feet below the surface of the ocean.

In addition to finding methane dissolved in the water there, the scientists found that microbes which usually consume the gas before it reaches the atmosphere had only formed in small numbers five years after they first began to study the site.

Thurber called the findings "incredibly concerning."

"It is not good news. It took more than five years for the microbes to begin to show up and even then there was still methane rapidly escaping from the sea floor," he told The Guardian. "The methane cycle is absolutely something that we as a society need to be concerned about."

Scientists have warned for years that the climate crisis could lead to the "tipping point" of methane leaks in the sea floor and the thawing of permafrost regions.

"At some point in a warming world, greenhouse gas emissions from nature will go way beyond anything we can control," tweeted Australian immunologist Peter Doherty.

The Ross Sea has not yet warmed significantly from the climate crisis, so the research did not directly link the methane leak to global heating.

But climate models have not yet accounted for significant delays in the development of microbes, which help to keep methane from leaking into the atmosphere.

"The big question is: how large is the lag [in microbe development] compared with the speed at which new leaks of methane might potentially form in the wake of retreating ice?" Prof. Jemma Wadham of the University of Bristol in the UK, who reviewed the study, told The Guardian.

Thurber called the discovery of the methane leak and the delayed microbe growth "a significant discovery that can help fill a large hole in our understanding of the methane cycle."

"Methane is the second-most effective gas at warming our atmosphere and the Antarctic has vast reservoirs that are likely to open up as ice sheets retreat due to climate change," he said in a statement.

Other tipping points identified by climate scientists include the disintegration of the ice sheet in West Antarctica, "dieback" in the Amazon which would transform the rainforest into a dry ecosystem, and the dying off of the coral reefs.

Scientists raised alarm earlier this year about unusually warm water beneath a massive glacier in West Antarctica, and researchers warned in February that the third major bleaching event in five years at the Great Barrier Reef would put the reef "on a knife edge."

Julia Conley is a staff writer at Common Dreams.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

UN News: UN Censures ‘heinous Attacks’ In Lake Chad Basin

Conflict over many years has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in north-east Cameroon. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe The Secretary-General strongly condemned “heinous attacks” against civilians in the Lake Chad Basin, a UN spokesperson ... More>>

South Africa: COVID-19 Pandemic Raises The Urgency Of Structural Reforms

South Africa responded swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the sharp drop in activity adds to long-standing challenges and raises the urgency of structural reforms, according to a new OECD report released today. In the latest Economic Survey of South Africa ... More>>

United Nations: ‘Immediate Humanitarian Assistance’ To Support Beirut

The response to Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut requires global support in order to “surmount the devastating impact” of the crisis facing the Lebanese people, the UN Deputy Special Coordinator for the country said on Thursday. More>>

UN Experts: Turkey Should Preserve Hagia Sophia As Space For Meeting Of Cultures

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul should be maintained as an inter-cultural space reflecting the diversity and complexity of Turkey and its history, and preserving the outstanding universal value which resulted in its World Heritage Status, say two UN human rights ... More>>