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Methane plumes erupt along East Coast: Okeanos Explorer finds 570 methane seeps

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Methane plumes erupting along the East Coast went largely undiscovered before 2012. Until two years ago, there were only three known methane seeps off the East Coast. Now, there are 570.

The NOAAS Okeanos Explorer discovered hundreds of the methane plumes during a sweeping survey of the East Coast of the United States from 2011 to 2013, reported FOX News. Methane is a colorless, odorless and inflammable gas. It is the main constituent of natural gas.

Using sound waves, the Explorer located the methane seeps and mapped their location on the seafloor. The sophisticated sonar can differentiate between ocean water and gas bubbles based on density.

The NOAAS Okeanos Explorer is a converted United States Navy ship, which was formerly known as the USNS Capable; it is an exploratory vessel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Although scientists have yet to test the gas to confirm that it is indeed methane, lead study author Adam Skarke, a geologist at Mississippi State University in Mississippi State, believes that is the case. "We don't know of any explanation that fits as well as methane," Skarke said.

Not even geologists expected the Atlantic Coast methane plumes. "It was a surprise to find these features," Skarke said. "It was unexpected because many of the common things associated with methane gas do not exist on the Atlantic margin."

With hundreds of previously undiscovered methane seeps underwater along the East Coast, there could be 30,000 others worldwide that have yet to be found. "These processes may be happening in places we didn't expect them," Skarke said.

The 570 methane plumes are scattered in eight regions between North Carolina's Cape Hatteras and Massachusetts' Georges Bank. According to MSN News, scientists don't believe the East Coast methane plumes add much methane to climate change.

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