When the moon hits the Arctic and it smells like it farted, that’s a-methaaaaaane. Pretend that rhymed, please. Earlier this month, ScienceDaily posted an article with the headline, “The Moon Controls the Release of Methane in Arctic Ocean.” What they were afraid to say in simpler terms is essentially that the moon makes the Arctic Ocean fart.
The quantity of methane in the atmosphere has increased dramatically over the last few decades, largely because of human activity and agriculture. However, even accounting for this, scientists hadn’t been able to identify precisely why methane levels are as high as they are. A recent study published in Nature Communications from the Arctic University of Norway suggests that the moon may be partially responsible.
Accumulated gas rests within the sediment a meter above the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. This gas is highly susceptible to changes in the pressure of the water. Most significantly, low tide reduces the pressure and allows the methane gas to be released from the ocean. What controls the tides? None other than the moon.
Previously, gas releases from the ocean were primarily monitored visually — when gas is released quickly and in larger quantities, bubbles appear. However, the slow movement of the tides via the moon cause this release to occur much more gradually, like a long, drawn-out fart. As such, the gas release couldn’t be observed without a long-term monitoring tool like a piezometer.
While the idea that methane, a gas contributing to our global warming, is being released from the ocean due to a force we have no control over is somewhat frightening, the researchers believe it may end up counterbalancing itself. Rising sea levels are another consequence of climate change, but deeper waters make it more difficult for methane on the seafloor to reach the surface. And so, rising sea levels may lead to reduced emissions of methane into the atmosphere.
That is, however, just speculation. For now, all we have is the knowledge that the moon is probably making the ocean fart. It’s not necessarily good news, but it’s hard to argue that it’s inherently bad news, either.