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The researchers examined the remains of plants from that 20,000-year period, deposited on the shores of the ancient Tethys Sea. With a technique that determines whether a plant’s carbon molecules were originally from carbon dioxide and methane, they looked for signs of each gas’s presence in the atmosphere.
What they found was first a spike in carbon dioxide, then a massive amount of methane, supporting the idea that methane may have been released after a warming caused by carbon dioxide from seismic activity.
The Future Holds:
The team’s findings are intriguing. Much is still unclear, though, about how such a carbon dioxide-methane loop would work. How hot would the atmosphere have to get before the permafrost layer melts? How much methane is there really in the seafloor? What other factors have to coincide with warming to have this effect? More research, likely with computer models, is needed on this topic to establish how such methane release might have worked at the end of the Triassic—and how it relates to our situation today.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) is looking at the next natural gas frontier: exploring methane hydrates’ potential as a viable future energy supply. Methane hydrates are the world’s largest untapped fossil fuel resource. They are 3-D ice-lattice structures with natural gas trapped inside, and are found in Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along continental shelves worldwide. The volume of natural gas held in methane hydrates globally is estimated to range from 100,000 trillion cubic feet to more than 1 million trillion cubic feet.