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.
That’s in part because frozen methane on our planet takes many more forms than we previously thought, and we are only now beginning to recognize some of them, Ann Cook, an associate professor in the School of Earth Sciences at The Ohio State University said during a presentation yesterday (June 25) here at the annual Astrobiology Science Conference.
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.
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.