'Phenomenal' Methane Gas Flares Found in New Zealand Sea Floor; Researchers Study Tsunami-Generating Landslides

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By Reissa Su | May 13, 2014 1:36 PM EST

A major network of methane gas and frozen methane was discovered by New Zealand and German scientists. The methane network, located in New Zealand's sea floor off the East Coast, has been causing underwater landslides and greenhouse gas emissions.

The 16-member team used 2D and 3D technology to map the underwater methane off the North Island. According to New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), the area was identified as prone to landslides of up to 15 km long and 100 metres thick. Scientists discovered 99 gas flares in a 50 square km area coming from the ocean floor in columns measuring 250 metres high. NIWA has described the area as the "densest" concentration of gas vents in New Zealand.

NIWA marine geologist Dr Joshu Mountjoy said the gas field and hydrate differed from others in New Zealand. In a statement, Dr Mountjoy said all gas venting sites in the ocean were usually linked to large earthquake faults. He described the number of gas flares under the ocean as "phenomenal."

He said methane is a "very effective" greenhouse gas. The release of methane from the sea may cause the Earth's climate to change dramatically. The warming of the ocean can alter the methane hydrate system and cause it to become unstable.

According to reports, large and slow underwater landslides have major implications to how tsunamis are generated from the landslides.  

The scientists' four-week expedition seeks to understand the cause of large underwater landslides off East Coast. The research team has proposed that the underwater landslides may be compared to glaciers but with frozen methane instead of ice water.

Dr Mountjoy believes that slow-moving submarine landslides are "essentially unknown" around the world but they may be part of the process in forming continental margins. He said it was also too early to declare the newly-discovered methane gas deposits as a possible economic resource for New Zealand since the gas did not come any of any large reservoir with commercial potential.

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