Earthquakes Tied to Global-Warming Gas

Study finds huge 1945 quake released methane into atmosphere

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 29, 2013 12:35 PM CDT

(Newser) – When it comes to infamous greenhouse gases, methane may be scooting ahead of carbon dioxide on the list of villains. First came last week's attention-grabbing news that the release of the gas by way of thawing permafrost could cost the global economy $60 trillion. Now comes a study that finds that methane, described by the Christian Science Monitor as a more potent heat trapper than carbon dioxide, is seeping into the atmosphere in another way: via earthquakes. German researchers say they're the first to prove the "direct connection between earthquakes and methane seepage," a feat they achieved by analyzing sediment cores taken in 2007 from the Arabian Sea off Pakistan.

What the sediment revealed: methane 5.2 feet beneath the sea floor, a presence the researchers saw as indicative of some major event. LiveScience reports they were able to date the introduction of the methane to between 1916 and 1962, and, using other indicators, ultimately attributed its release to a 8.1-magnitude earthquake that hit in 1945. The Monitor notes that by modeling the current seepage, they calculated that 261 million cubic feet of methane has seeped toward the surface since. What does it mean for global warming? The jury is still out: "We simply can't tell yet, if and how much our findings affect climate models," says the lead researcher. "Maybe it turns out to be important, maybe it doesn't. We'll see."

Indonesian youth look at a crack on the ground following a strong earthquake in Bengkulu, Sumatra island, Indonesia, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007.   (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
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