Monday, September 3, 2012

The Elusive Microbe of Methane

The researchers suggest that microbes isolated from the rest of the world since the ice closed over them, some 35 million years ago, have kept busy digesting organic matter and making methane—a much more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

If global warming causes the ice sheets to retreat in the coming decades or centuries, the researchers warn, some of the methane could belch into the atmosphere, amplifying the warming.

Wow...interesting.  However, read a little further in the National Geographic piece and you stumble on cold hard reality.

Jemma Wadham of the University of Bristol, England, and her colleagues have not actually detected methane-producing microbes under the Antarctic ice sheet. They haven't detected methane either—though they are participating in drilling projects that could do so later this year.
Just so we're clear.  This hasn't been proven.  It's a theory.  But, that doesn't stop the hysterical alerts from flying.
Wadham and her colleagues calculate there could be anywhere from 70 to 390 billion tons of carbon in hydrates under the East Antarctic ice sheet, and a few tens of billions of tons under West Antarctica. (The methane there may have been made by geothermal heating of sediments rather than microbes.)
The cynic in me wants to point out that this would be a wonderful way to try and influence various countries to avoid drilling for natural resources in Antarctica.  Too late on trying to influence the Russians, however. 
Russia has been busy with oil exploration in Antarctica.  Interestingly enough, they drilled down over four (4) kilometers into a sub-glacial lake that has not been exposed to the surface for nearly 10 to 20 million years.  Guess methane.  

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