Study identifies methane release from the deep Ocean

New research indicates that the so-called fire-ice, which refers to frozen methane under the ocean, could be at risk of melting as a consequence of climate change, potentially leading to its release into the sea.

Post Author:

Climate State

Date Posted:

December 9, 2023

New research indicates that the so-called fire-ice, which refers to frozen methane under the ocean, could be at risk of melting as a consequence of climate change, potentially leading to its release into the sea.

The new findings highlight the potential ramifications of climate change-induced melting of frozen methane and emphasize the urgent need to address this issue in order to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and related environmental consequences.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers, led by Newcastle University, and identified that the melting of frozen methane hydrates – ice like structure, leads to the release of its methane, and pathways to shallower regions.

The methane migrates from the deepest parts of the continental slope to the underwater shelf’s edge, with the researchers even observing a pocket that had moved a significant distance of 25 miles (40 kilometers).

The findings were published in Nature Geoscience, and the study suggest that deep sea methane could even potentially find its way into the atmosphere.


Methane hydrate, also known as fire-ice, an ice-like structure, is a substance found in the ocean floor and that contains methane. When the oceans warm, the hydrate thaws and releases the methane.

This process, known as dissociated methane, is a significant concern due to the large amounts of methane stored in marine environments.

The scientists utilized advanced seismic imaging techniques to study the dissociated portion of hydrate. They discovered a case where methane migrated over 40 kilometre – a significant distance and was released through underwater depressions called pockmarks during previous warm periods.

The study led by Professor Richard Davies from Newcastle University discovered 23 pockmarks off the coast of Mauritania in Northwest Africa, formed due to the release of methane from hydrate in deep continental slopes.


This finding challenges the previous notion that this hydrate was not susceptible to climate warming and demonstrates that some of it is vulnerable. The discovery highlights the need to consider the impact of climate change on methane hydrate release and its potential contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

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Previous research on the release of methane from hydrates has largely concentrated on areas with a small percentage of global methane hydrates. In contrast, this study focuses on the release of methane from the deep-sea hydrate stability zone.

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The findings indicate that methane released from this zone can migrate over considerable distances towards land. This study provides valuable insights into the potential impacts of bottom water temperature changes on methane releases and their dispersion in marine environments.

Christian Berndt, Head of the Research Unit Marine Geodynamics from Germany (GEOMAR), noted:

“This is an important discovery. So far, research efforts focused on the shallowest parts of the hydrate stability zone, because we thought that only this portion is sensitive to climate variations.

The new data clearly show that far larger volumes of methane may be liberated from marine hydrates and we really have to get to the bottom of this to understand better the role of hydrates in the climate system.”

Climate Warming

Methane, being the second most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas, contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions. According to data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, methane is responsible for approximately 16% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Understanding the role of methane in climate change is essential for developing effective strategies to mitigate its impact.

Next Steps

The research team is determined to further investigate methane vents, and aim to anticipate the locations of significant methane seeps in the future.

The study authors intend to conduct a scientific cruise to drill into the pockmarks and establish a stronger connection between these formations and previous episodes of climate warming.



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About the Author: Climate State

Climate State
Climate State covers the broad spectrum of climate change, and the solutions, since 2011 with the focus on the sciences. Climate State – we endorse data, facts, empirical evidence.
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