Discovery of hundreds of methane vents on the seafloor off the U.S. east coast has shocked the scientific community. These bubbling vents indicate that large volumes of gas is trapped in the sludgy ice called methane hydrate. Researchers believe the new seeps could be contributing to global warming. Scientists have so far discovered 570 vents in an area spreading hundreds of miles between Cape Hatteras in North Carolina to Nantucket in Massachusetts.

Methane Gas

Methane 20 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide

These vents were found at varying depths from 50m to 1,700m. Researchers believe there could be as many as 30,000 or more of these hidden methane seeps worldwide. Findings of the study were published on Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience. The latest study debunks previous beliefs that there were only thee seeps beyond the continental shelf on the east coast.

Researchers are worried because methane is the worst of all the global warming gases. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, methane is 20 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide. Though its lifetime is much shorter than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it’s far “more efficient at trapping radiation.” The newly discovered 570 vents could be producing up to 90 tons of greenhouse gases every year. These could be a major, and previously unknown, source of harmful carbon emissions.

Methane Gas-2

seafloor a big source of methane hydrate

Prof Adam Skarke of the Mississippi State University, lead author of the study, said it was the first time this level of seepage has been found outside the Arctic that is not associated with oil or gas reservoirs or active tectonic margins. Most of the vents were located about 500-meter down. That’s a level where there are the right temperature and pressure to create methane hydrate, a sludgy confection of gas and ice.

It highlights the scale of methane held under the waters. Though the vents may not be posing an alarming threat to the environmental temperature right away, the sheer number suggests that the previous calculations about the sources of greenhouse gases need to be revised.