About 500 new streams of shimmering methane bubbles have been discovered off the Pacific Northwest coast.
Notable ocean explorations in the past year include a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration exploration of the Marianas Trench, which contains Earth’s deepest spot; a dive to the USS Independence, a World War II-era aircraft carrier that was scuttled off the coast of San Francisco in 1951; and the discovery of mysterious species like a bizarre purple orb, which was collected near the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the California coast.
The discovery of copious methane seeps in the Cascadia margin near Oregon and Washington was “At the top” of the list of 2016 discoveries, Ausubel said.
“We’ve known for a few decades that these exist, but it’s turning out that they could be really extensive, and if they’re very extensive, that starts to change your ideas about ocean life, because there are animals, mussels and sea worms and so forth, that can live off the energy” released by the seeps.
The discovery of approximately 500 new seeps doubles the number of known seeps that have been found off the U.S. West Coast.
Twenty years ago, methane seeps were basically unknown, Ausubel said.
Methane seeps also host communities of methanophiles, which are organisms that live off the energy-rich gas.