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Identification of the source of the massive methane reservoir

  Source of massive methane reservoir identified
Jason remote controlled vehicle manipulator arm draws liquid flow from hydrothermal vent. The liquid contains gases that are in liquid form due to the high pressure of the deep sea. Photo credits: Chris Deutsch / WHOI / NSF, NASA / ROV Jason 2012, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

New research from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), published on August 19, 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science provides evidence for the formation and abundance of abiotic methane – methane produced by chemical Forming substances is reactions in which no organic matter is involved – on Earth – and show how the gases on other planets and moons could have a similar origin, even on those that no longer have liquid water. The researchers had noticed for a long time that methane was released from deep-sea vents. But while the gas is abundant in the atmosphere in which it is produced by living things, the source of methane at the bottom of the sea was a mystery.

"Identifying an abiotic source of deep-sea methane is a problem we have been struggling with for many years," says Jeffrey Seewald, senior scientist at WHOI, who studies geochemistry in hydrothermal systems and is one of the authors of the study.

Almost all methane ash was found in 160 examined rock samples from all oceans. These oceanic deposits form a reservoir that exceeds the amount of methane in the Earth's atmosphere prior to industrialization, estimates Frieder Klein, marine geologist at the WHOI and lead author of the oceanic crust and mantle study, "Klein says.

The scientists analyzed rocks using Raman spectroscopy, a laser-based microscope to identify liquids and minerals in a thin disk of rock Nearly every sample contained an accumulation of minerals and gases that form when seawater moving through the deep oceanic crust is magma-hot As the mineral cools, the water trapped within it undergoes a chemical reaction, a process called serpentinization that produces hydrogen and methane, and the authors show that in otherwise inhospitable environments, there are only two ingredients – water and olivine – can form methane

"Here is a source of chemical energy generated by geology," says Seewald.

On Earth, Deep Sea Methane could have played a crucial role in the development of primitive organisms that live on hydrothermal wells on the seabed, Seewald explains. And elsewhere in the Solar System, in places like Jupiter's Moon Europa and Saturn's Enceladus, methane produced by the same process could provide an energy source for basic life forms.

Methane not released by wind on Mars, experts say

Further information:
Frieder Klein et al., Abiotic Methane Synthesis and Serpentinization in Olivine-Contained Fluid Inclusions, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2019). DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.1907871116

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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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Source of massive methane reservoir identified (2019, 20 August)
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