In many cases, when the process isn't entirely geological, the methane is generated by a particular type of microbes that release said compounds as part of their energy production processes. Importantly, the production of biogenic methane is an inevitable natural process that we can do nothing to stop.
Although it’s not yet clear how much of this methane made it through the oceans and into the atmosphere, there’s a good chance it exacerbated the climate warming at the time. This would have triggered a further warming of the oceans, and the release of yet more methane.
Beyond a certain point, this self-reinforcing process may have become unstoppable.
This positive feedback cycle, or even just a massive release of methane, may not necessarily happen in the present era, but it's still a distinct possibility. As the world warms today (due, of course, to human activity), existing frozen methane caches will also begin to destabilize, melt away, and escape, either into the oceans or the atmosphere.
In fact, the team conclude that “the widespread occurrence of methane seep deposits in Early Cretaceous strata on Ellef Ringnes Island provides an excellent analogue for the present-day potential of global warming-induced hydrate destabilization.”
Methane can be detected leaking into the skies today, including in the Arctic, scientists aren’t yet sure what the critical temperature may be for a runaway warming effect; the probability of a methane-triggered acceleration in global warming remains decidedly uncertain. Either way, we don’t really want to tempt the beast by driving up global temperatures as fast as we can manage.
The more we heat the planet, the more likely methane will begin to inexorably escape from its frozen prisons. Lifetimestock/Shutterstock
[H/T: Washington Post]