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Desert Diary


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Think the desert's hot? It could be quite a bit hotter before long. We all know about global warming and that many scientists place at least part of the blame on our burning of fossil fuels producing excess carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas. Another worry has recently surfaced, however: methane hydrates. Methane, the major component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas, and huge amounts are stored in the sea bed, captured inside of frozen water: the methane hydrates.

This is all well and fine, since it's trapped in place. The joker, though, is that various events, including increased sea-water temperatures, may release large amounts to the atmosphere. Just such an event happened some 55 million years ago, resulting in global temperatures rising some 14° Fahrenheit. To put this in perspective, we're worried today about an increase of around 1 to 8° F. as a result of burning fossil fuel. Just possibly, 1 to 8° could unleash the methane hydrates, sending the temperature skyrocketing.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Schiermeier, Q. 2003. Gas leak! Science 423:681-682.

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