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BELLEVUE, Wash. — There's a giant trove of frozen methane, or "fire ice," locked beneath our ocean's surface. If released, it could trigger tsunamis, landslides and release huge amounts of carbon into our already-warming atmosphere. But we have almost no idea how much there is or where to find it.
Frozen methane, also known as methane hydrates, is made up of methane gas molecules locked inside frozen water crystals. It looks like ice, forms at low temperatures and high pressures in the ocean and is thought to contain 15% to 40% of Earth's carbon, Cook said.
Methane - Stores - Planet - Carbon - Role
Because frozen methane stores much of our planet's carbon, it likely plays a big role in the recycling of carbon between our atmosphere and living things. It's also a potential energy source — and a potential biohazard, she said.
If it "melts," the sudden release of methane into the ocean rapidly changes the nearby water pressure, which can lead to dangerous landslides and tsunamis, Cook told Live Science. Methane is also highly flammable when in its free form.
Importance - Methane - Hydrate - Earth - Ocean
Despite its importance, "we are still trying to figure out how much methane hydrate there is on Earth and how it may interact with the ocean and atmosphere," she said. "We need to understand the way it forms or how it looks in the subseafloor to know these things."
Scientists can't agree on how much methane hydrate lurks below the ocean. Most say that frozen methane contains 2,000 gigatons of carbon, while others might say closer to...
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