November 9, 2012
Somewhere off the eastern coast of North Carolina, a frozen mixture of water and methane gas tucked in seabed sediments is starting to break down. Researchers blame a shifting Gulf Stream — the swift Atlantic Ocean current that flows north from the Gulf of Mexico — which is now delivering warmer waters to areas that had previously only experienced colder temperatures.
“We know methane hydrates exist here and, if warming continues, it can potentially lead to less stable sediments in this region,” says Matthew Hornbach, a marine geologist at the Southern Methodist University
in Dallas, Texas, who led the study that is published online today in Nature. The results suggest that the warmer temperatures are destabilizing up to 2.5 gigatons of methane hydrate along the continental slope of the eastern United States. This region is prone to underwater landslides, which could release the methane, a powerful greenhouse gas....