Microbes are generating a vast pool of marine methane that is contributing to global warming, a British team of scientists has confirmed.
Scientists from Queen Mary, University of London, traced the source of methane in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
Sediment collected from the ocean floor, where there is very little oxygen, revealed how bugs are creating the largest region of marine methane on Earth.
Atmospheric levels of methane have increased in the last few decades, partly because of human activity. Scientists are keen to understand natural processes of methane production and consumption in order to assess the role played by humans.
Queen Mary scientists aboard the Royal Research Ship James Cook spent six weeks mapping the methane pool between Panama and Hawaii.
Dr Felicity Shelley, from the university’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: “The research is novel because it’s the first time anyone has successfully retrieved sediment from this part of the ocean and directly measured methane production using specialised equipment on board the research ship.
“It is important that we understand how microbes produce and consume this powerful greenhouse gas, especially in the oceans, where we currently understand very little.”