Ocean Floor Reveals Clues To Global Warming

Rising ocean temperatures could cause explosive release of frozen methane hydrates.

Published: 18-Jan-2004

Scientists at the University of Wyoming may have discovered how massive amounts of carbon enter the atmosphere during periods of global warming.

In a paper published Jan. 8 in the journal Nature, UW Department of Geology and Geophysics graduate student Matthew Hornbach and professors Demian Saffer and Steve Holbrook propose that the source of the carbon is methane gas found beneath methane hydrate -- an ice-like substance consisting of frozen methane and water. Methane hydrate exists in vast quantities beneath the ocean floor and is believed to constitute the largest reservoir of organic carbon on Earth.

Hornbach, Saffer and Holbrook contend that a rise in ocean temperatures can convert the methane hydrate into methane gas. "Since methane is a greenhouse gas, substantial amounts of it released from beneath these hydrate deposits can contribute to global warming," Hornbach says.

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