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Scientists Investigate 'the Four Corners Mystery'

Satellite data found methane 'hot spot' in the area last year
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 12, 2015 2:30 PM CDT
Scientists Investigate 'the Four Corners Mystery'
The Four Corners area, in red, left, is a major US hot spot for methane emissions in this map showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009.   (AP Photo/NASA, JPL-Caltech, University of Michigan)

(Newser) – Last year, a puzzle emerged in the Four Corners area, where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah come together: The area, scientists found, has had a far higher concentration of methane than anywhere else in the US. Now, teams of federal, university, and other researchers are trying to figure out why, Phys.org reports. Last year's findings came from satellite data that didn't offer a clear picture of the reasons for the phenomenon. But "with all the ground-based and airborne resources that the different groups are bringing to the region, we have the unique chance to unequivocally solve the Four Corners mystery," an expert says.

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Researchers from NASA, NOAA, the University of Michigan, and elsewhere will turn to a collection of specialized instruments to conduct their investigation into the methane "hot spot," which, LiveScience reports, stuck around from 2003 until 2009 at the earliest. Flying the instruments over the area will allow experts to map out methane levels in detail, tracking down the sources by investigating at the level of the square meter. The investigation will take place over the course of the next month, the AP reports. Possible causes include gas extraction and coal mining, LiveScience notes. (Another odd source of methane: the Atlantic sea floor, which is "burping" the stuff up, a study says.)

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