Extra, extra, read all about it! Coal and other fossil fuels, which have provided a steady energy source for many years, is running out. Plus, the use of such fossil fuels is hurting our planet and contributing to global climate change. Experts are urging humanity to make a push for cleaner, renewable, and sustainable energy before we either run out of non-renewable energy sources or our planet burns to a crisp! Okay, so maybe that is old news. But what about this headline: “In other news, scientists may have found a buried goldmine in the form of new usable energy deep within the ocean. Could this be the key to the energy crisis conundrum we have been searching for?”
Enough with the biased news reporters, I am not here to push an agenda. I am here merely to state the facts and recent studies on methane hydrate. First, some background information. Methane hydrate is formed under two conditions: incredibly high pressures and extremely cold temperatures. Thus we can find methane hydrates at the bottom of the ocean or deep under the permafrost. Methane hydrate is simply methane gas encased within stable, solid water molecules (for you smarty-pants out there, solid water is also known as ICE). Methane gas itself is a naturally occurring gas formed through various environmental processes and through the metabolism of various animals and bacteria.
SO WHY DO WE CARE?!
The pros: Cha-ching!
Methane Hydrates may contain as much as twice the carbon contained in all reserves of coal, oil, and conventional natural gas combined. In English, that means methane hydrates hold enough potential energy to provide us with a huge, never-before-seen, source of non-renewable energy. Studies also show that there is plenty of methane hydrate to go around since the vast majority of the deep ocean and permafrost have remained untouched by human hands. However, there currently is no known technology for tapping into methane hydrates as a source of useful energy, but plenty of scientists around the globe are trying to figure it out. Scientists exploring the deep oceans have also discovered vast ecosystems centered around these reservoirs of methane hydrate. Even new species that may be sources of beneficial pharmaceutical materials have been discovered in these methane hydrate ecosystems.
The cons: Potential Earth Burner
Methane hydrate is a beautiful water crystal housing a major greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases contribute to climate change and methane is arguably the most potent of the greenhouse gases. The problem with using methane hydrate as a source of energy is figuring out how to extract it without releasing that harmful gas into the atmosphere. Some scientists hypothesize that tapping into this potential energy source could lead to a major greenhouse effect and raise the deep ocean temperatures by about 6 degrees Celsius. Other scientists hypothesize that extracting vast amounts of methane hydrate from the deep ocean could trigger submarine landslides that could in turn cause catastrophic tsunamis. Current studies and available evidence does not support either of these hypotheses, but methane gas is, without question, a strong greenhouse gas that should not be taken for granted.
So, not ready to sell your house to invest in methane hydrate stocks? The ocean may have other intriguing energy sources to offer! Within ocean waves lies huge amounts of kinetic energy. Devices to capture wave energy are currently being designed and tested. Ocean currents also hold vast amounts of potential energy. Current estimates predict that capturing less than 1% of the available energy from the Gulf Stream would be enough energy to meet all of Florida’s electrical needs. Creating a device to extract energy from the constant rise and fall of the tides is also being studied. The major benefits to these energy ideas is that they are all clean, renewable energy sources.
The mysteries of the ocean are vast. Scientific studies show that life first began as microbes within ocean waters. Now we look to the ocean for ways to sustain our own lives, and as we should. The ocean contains life-changing energy sources, both the ones I described in this blog post and ones yet discovered. I was going to remain unbiased, but I must stand on my soapbox for just a moment. The average temperatures across the globe are in fact increasing, which means climate change is real. Though we cannot physically see or feel the effects of global climate change, they are being felt in other parts of the world. If we do not tend to the decisions we make as humans, both big decisions like extracting methane hydrate and small decisions like throwing a plastic wrapper out the window, we may find ourselves with an uncomfortably hot home planet and a lifeless ocean. The title of this blog post is phrased as a question because I want you, the reader, to make your own informed decision. Stepping off my soapbox now, have a nice day!
If you read this whole blog post, you are my hero! Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave me a comment and feedback below. Also, let me know if there is any particular science topic you would like me to look at “through green tinted glasses” and I will write about it.
*All information contained in this blog post were extracted from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA for short) as well as my own thoughts.