On the Air: February 22, 2015
Methane bubbles deep in the ocean floor can seep to the surface. Credit: (c) 2007 MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute)

The ocean floor sometimes “burps.” In fact, according to some recent research, it burps a lot just off the eastern coast of the United States.

For two years, researchers used sonar to peer at the continental margin from Massachusetts down to North Carolina. That margin is where the shallow continental shelf gives way to the deep ocean.

The sonar revealed columns of bubbles streaming from 570 spots along the margin. The researchers haven’t sampled the gas in those bubbles, but it most likely consists of methane — the main ingredient in natural gas.

In Print: February 1, 2015
A purple sea urchin. Credit: Claire Fackler, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

When the going gets tough, purple sea urchins appear to get tougher, or at least tough enough to possibly cope with climate change. Purple sea urchins are referred to as a “keystone” species because the ecosystem needs enough of them to feed marine mammals, fish, seabirds and other predators, but not so many that they overrun the place. Increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere may threaten that balance. As oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, the water becomes more acidic, which decreases calcium carbonate levels.