Deadly Bubbles of the Sea

by r.cove on October 16, 2015 - 8:34pm

             The ocean holds many unknowns; from undiscovered species to depths which humans cannot reach. There is so much more to explore. The ocean also contains evidence of earth’s history. Geology often allows for understanding of past climates, processes, and orientations of the earth’s continents. Today there are many environmental concerns; the largest being global warming and climate change.  Global warming is affecting seasonal changes through the warming of large bodies of water and increasing the process of ice melt. In an article from Science News, the recent discovery of “bubble plumes” located approximately one third of a mile below the water’s surface off the coast of Oregon and Washington State are a potential side-effect and contributor to climate change. These plumes contain methane gas in its crystal form stored in sea floor sediments. When the ocean waters are warmed, the solid crystal structure of methane hydrate transitions to a dangerous and strong greenhouse gas. The warming of the oceans from today’s climate change is thought to be causing this release of methane in gas form.  In past climate fluctuations, methane has been one of the greenhouse gasses that contributed significantly. The methane does not act as a greenhouse gas until the bubbles surface and enter the atmosphere. Marine microbes interact with the methane as it rises to the surface and change it to carbon dioxide creating a low oxygen, high acid level in the ocean, which eventually wells up along the coastal areas and affects the waterways. This is bad news for the fisheries and local biology that is already weakened from overfishing and existing climate change impacts. If ocean temperatures continue to rise and more methane is released, the negative effects on fisheries, other wildlife and climate would be amplified. The decomposition of methane from ocean floor sediments could also create some instability leading to slope failures on the ocean floor. This is an environmental threat as habitats may be destroyed, and surface waves from large slope failures could pose a threat to coastlines with low elevations.


            This article was excellent as it included facts, and some primary evidence on the presence and effects of methane bubbles. This issue will be very fascinating to follow as more research is done. Looking at this from the issue attention cycle, sea floor bubbles and methane release are in the pre-problem stage as it is not a well-known environmental threat. Climate change occurs at so many scales that as humans we feel overwhelmed and powerless when it comes to solving this problem. Governments are implementing emissions quotas and technologies are becoming more environmentally-friendly in an to attempt to control greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, the discovery of a natural process such as methane gas release although harmful, can be seen as a positive discovery. If we are aware of methane gas release then there may be a way to slow down or prevent it from happening. It will not be easy: however, it may be beneficial to multiple natural resource types and environmental issues. Since, the cause of the release is thought to be the warming of the oceans, correcting this problem or preventing any further human-caused warming will require global cooperation as ocean circulation cannot be controlled or prevented. Global cooperation is not easy to achieve especially with this much uncertainty and little research, so it may take time. The question will be how long until the damage is irreversible? Another concern is the location of the bubble plumes. If they are present off the coast of Oregon State and Washington State, where else could they potentially be? And what types of policy instruments need to be implemented to control this issue if any? Considering that climate change affects every type of natural resource in the long run (from growing seasons, to species productivity) a chain reaction could be experienced in a helpful or harmful direction. 



University of Washington. (2015, October 14). Bubble plumes off Washington, Oregon suggest

warmer ocean may be releasing frozen methane.ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 14, 2015