The site of the methane leak was stained with a white mat of hungry microbes.
(Image: © Andrew Thurber, Oregon State University)
Just below the freezing Antarctic ice shelves, researchers have discovered a gas leak that could change the region’s climate destiny.
For the first time, scientists have detected an active leak of methane gas — a greenhouse gas with 25 times more climate-warming potential than carbon dioxide — in Antarctic waters. While underwater methane leaks have been detected previously all over the world, hungry microbes help keep that leakage in check by gobbling up the gas before too much can escape into the atmosphere. But according to a study published July 22 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, that does not seem to be the case in Antarctica.
The study authors found that methane-eating microbes took roughly five years to respond to the Antarctic leak, and even then they did not consume the gas completely. According to lead study author Andrew Thurber, the underwater leak almost certainly sent methane gas seeping into the atmosphere in those five years — a phenomenon that current climate models do not account for when predicting t