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On Bubbling Ocean Methane and Carbon-Soaking Trees

Methane from the ocean floorWell, there’s good news and bad news.

First the good news:

Vast stores of methane are released in plums of gas seeping up from cracks on the ocean floor. One of the largest of these cracks is Coal Oil Point along the northern edge of the Santa Barbara Channel off Southern California coast, where 2 million cubic feet per day of methane is released (along with around 100 barrels of oil to boot). 

Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If all the methane made it from a crack in the ocean floor all the way up into the atmosphere, to the tune of any significant percentage of that 2 million cubic feet from only one seep of an ocean floor littered with them, it would be a far worse scenario for climate stability than what we appear to already have.

Recent research by David Valentine of the UC Santa Barbara has determined that only 1% of the methane released along Coal Oil Point is released into the atmosphere. The remainder is eventually oxidized by microbial activity in the ocean.

That’s good news for the atmosphere.

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Longer autumns release more carbonNow the bad news.

We all love trees. There’s a tree-hugger buried inside all of us. Or at least I’d like to think there is. But never mind about that.

In any case, most everyone, whether hugging a tree or not, understands that forest and green plant cover breathes in carbon and exhales oxygen, a benefit to a stable climate.

Right?

Recent research has discovered another example of the increasingly complex web of positive feedback loops that signal a rapidly changing climate. This one involves trees and plants in their splendid cycle of decay (autumn color!), and the release of stored carbon – adding to a warming atomosphere and even longer autumns, with even more carbon released…

The balance between spring uptake of carbon and autumn release is changing with the longer fall season, diminishing the net effectiveness of northern trees and plants as a carbon sink.

It makes my head spin, just thinking about the vast intricacy in the workings of our natural world.

Nobody said climate science was easy, nor that our current climate models reflect the total interplay of cause and effect. That’s why I’m glad there are climate scientists out there doing the research, helping to increase our understanding of such a complex system and our role in shaping our future within it.

 

 

 

 

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