Report

Temporal Constraints on Hydrate-Controlled Methane Seepage off Svalbard

Science  17 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6168, pp. 284-287
DOI: 10.1126/science.1246298

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What Does It All Mean?

Strong emissions of methane have recently been observed from shallow sediments in Arctic seas. Berndt et al. (p. 284, published online 2 January) present a record of methane seepage from marine sediments off the coast of Svalbard showing that such emissions have been present for at least 3000 years, the result of normal seasonal fluctuations of bottom waters. Thus, contemporary observations of strong methane venting do not necessarily mean that the clathrates that are the source of the methane are decomposing at a faster rate than in the past.

Abstract

Methane hydrate is an icelike substance that is stable at high pressure and low temperature in continental margin sediments. Since the discovery of a large number of gas flares at the landward termination of the gas hydrate stability zone off Svalbard, there has been concern that warming bottom waters have started to dissociate large amounts of gas hydrate and that the resulting methane release may possibly accelerate global warming. Here, we corroborate that hydrates play a role in the observed seepage of gas, but we present evidence that seepage off Svalbard has been ongoing for at least 3000 years and that seasonal fluctuations of 1° to 2°C in the bottom-water temperature cause periodic gas hydrate formation and dissociation, which focus seepage at the observed sites.

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