Absolutely stunning new research by the University of Washington (et al) confirms that 500 newly discovered deep ocean seafloor methane gas seeps are flowing massive amounts of this powerful greenhouse gas into the overlying ocean along the entire coast of Oregon, Washington, and California. Research scientists involved in this project indicate that this very large continuously flowing plume of methane gas is likely making its way up through the ocean water column and into Earth’s atmosphere. Furthermore, they state that pending additional analysis, climate scientists may need to “adjust” climate models (see quotes below).
“Depending on how much is released from the vents off the West Coast, and how it ends up in the water versus the atmosphere, global climate models may need adjustment.” (see here)
“It appears that the entire coast off Washington, Oregon and California is a giant methane seep,” says Robert Ballard, founder and director of the Ocean Exploration Trust in Connecticut.” (see here)
The discovery of copious methane seeps in the Cascadia margin near Oregon and Washington was “at the top” of the list of 2016 discoveries, Ausubel said.” (see here)
Implications of this research are far reaching and very significant for several reasons.
First these methane leaks are almost certainly powered by geologically induced heat flow from the downward reaching deep earth Cascadia Fault Zone (Figure 1 and quote above). This fault is proven to be associated with and / or the cause of active volcanism along the entire Oregon and Washington coast; including deep ocean hydrothermal vents, land-based volcanoes (Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainer, and Mount Hood), and heat emitting deep ocean seafloor spreading upper earth tectonic plate boundaries.
An explanation of how geological forces in the form of heat flow generate this methane gas plume is as follows. Heat flow from the deep inner earth reaching Cascadia Fault trend acts to warm seafloor rock layers that lie directly along and adjacent to the fault zone. These water-bearing rock layers are known to contain large amounts of frozen methane gas. Once these layers are sufficiently geothermally warmed the frozen methane held within them changes from a solid to a gas. This unlocked gas then moves laterally along the melted rock layers, upward along open vertical fractures within the fault zone, into the overlying ocean, up through the ocean water column, and finally into the atmosphere. Sounds like a long complicated journey, but it’s not. Gas flow along ocean fault zones is proven and common. Geologists have studied this phenomenon for years.
Confirming that massive plumes of climate-altering continuously flowing of methane gas exist, and are associated with geological forces is a major confirmation of the fundamental building block principle of the Plate Climatology Theory (originally proposed October 7, 2014 ,and presented at the AMS National Conference January 13, 2016). That principle can be paraphrased as follows; “geological forces drive a significant portion of Earth’s climate”.
The second major reason the implications of these newly discovered deep ocean gas plumes is far reaching and significant is as follows. Their presence strongly infers that Earth’s dominate methane emitter is not humans, rather geological forces (see here). The University of Washington (et al) research team also feels confident that as they continue their deep ocean research around the globe they will find other massive deep ocean methane gas plumes (see quote below). Keep in mind that only 5% of earth’s deep oceans have been explored and that 90% of all active heat emitting volcanoes and faults lie in the deep ocean.
“The team thinks it is likely that they will find yet more seeps on the seafloor off the eastern US. We hope there will be opportunities for more mapping in the next couple of field seasons to get a complete baseline of sites, says Embley.” (see here).
Next, confirming that geological forces in the form of Cascadia Fault Zone heat flow likely play a major role in altering Earth’s atmosphere / climate implies that other types of geological forces could also play equally significant roles in modifying other aspects of our climate. A short list of how these other geological forces likely affect climate and climate-related events are; bottom melt portions of polar ice caps, generate ocean El Niño warm blobs, alter major deep ocean currents (the Gulf Stream), influence marine animal migration patterns, and influence worldwide oxygen generating plankton blooms.
In conclusion, it’s been just a few months since the science climate community admitted that geological forces in the form of volcanic eruptions, citing the 1991 Mount Pinatubo event, play a major role in controlling Earth’s climate by overriding all human-induced atmospheric emissions. Their interpretation is that this one single eruption halted manmade global warming for 18 years. The science community has also recently conceded that all El Niños, including the 2016 event, are not caused by humans, rather “unknown natural forces”. The discovery of massive deep ocean methane gas plumes adds to the rapidly growing amount of research that proves geological forces rock our planet.
The year 2016 will be remembered as a turning point in how we view, and more importantly how we move forward with the science of climate. A Nobel Prize winning Physicist Sir William Bragg once said: “The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them”.
James Edward Kamis is a Geologist and AAPG member of 42 years with a B.S. and M.S. in geology who has always been fascinated by the connection between Geology and Climate. More than 11 years of research / observation have convinced him that the Earth’s Heat Flow Engine, which drives the outer crustal plates, is also an important driver of the Earth’s climate. The Plate Climatology Theory (plateclimatology.com) was recently presented at the annual 2016 American Metrological Society Conference in New Orleans, LA. (see here)