Why Is Petroleum Called A Fossil Fuel – Abiotic sources of methane have been found in more than 20 countries and several deep ocean regions so far. Credit: Deep Carbon Observatory
Experts say the scientific understanding of deep hydrocarbons has changed, with new insights into the energy sources that could fuel and sustain early life.
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For the past hundred years, scientists have studied in detail how biotics, from plants, animals and algae, are extracted from deposits in the Earth’s crust to heat and release the home, car and industry. last year
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But for some hydrocarbons, especially methane, a colorless and odorless component of natural gas, nature has many ways of making them, some of which are “abiotic” — not from the “decomposition of previous life, but instead turned inorganic by geological and chemical processes”. in the background the Earth..
Abiotic hydrocarbons are the focus of the Deep Carbon Observatory’s Deep Energy Community Program, a 10-year exploration of Earth’s deepest mysteries, which ends in October.
DCO experts believe that the abiotic origin of methane explains most of the unusual occurrences of the gas, including the Chimaera fire in southwestern Turkey.
Chimera is not above normal oil and gas deposits resulting from pollution from the remains of the past. However, over thousands of years dozens of small fires have occurred in this mountain location.
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Among the ancient explanations for the flame was the smell of a monster: part lion, part goat and snake. A less colorful scientific reason: Flammable abiotic methane and hydrogen rise to the surface from below.
Chimera is one of the most photographed and well-known sites of the hundreds of abiotic sources of methane found in more than 20 countries and deep-sea regions to date.
DCO colleague Giuseppe Etiope of the Istituto Nazionale di Geophysica e Vulcanologia in Rome has documented the Chimera site and many other environments where unusual methane events have occurred, including:
Although there are many different types of rock on all these worlds, he notes that most of the discoveries have been concentrated in places where there are specific and suitable types of “ultramafic” rocks such as peridotite (rocks with grains) from massifs and ophiolites. (rock formations). formed from underwater eruptions of the oceanic crust and upper mantle).
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Abiotic methane on Earth today is thought to come from hydrogen produced by the hydration of ultramafic rocks that undergo “serpentinization,” the reaction that occurs when water meets the mineral olivine.
Hydrogen also has the biological source of methane. DCO researchers have documented a vast microbial ecosystem – a deep biosphere that runs on hydrogen. Many deep-sea microbes, called methanogens, convert hydrogen to produce methane.
Thus, the deep biosphere posed a chicken-and-egg scenario: which came first, abiotic or microbial methane? If abiotic methane appeared first, as it clearly seems, did it give rise to the first microbes on Earth? And if the microbes came first, how and why did they live there with almost no food?
Fires have burned for thousands of years in the Chimera, scorching the slopes and inspiring legends of wind-breathing monsters. The release of methane and hydrogen from this sep ophiolite is caused by abiotic reactions. Credits: Jyri Leskinen
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When the Deep Carbon Observatory project began in 2009, the Deep Energy DCO community, which now includes more than 230 researchers from 35 countries, set out to unravel the origins of methane here on Earth.
Some believe that the unusual methane deposit, which is unlikely to be of biotic origin, must have formed through chemical reactions occurring in the surrounding rocks.
Others argue that microbes contribute to methane production in some reservoirs and convert hydrogen to produce methane in a completely different process.
Some believe that the methane may have originated deeper in the Earth, in the upper mantle, and spread to the surface. (At Gubkin University in Moscow, researcher Vladimir Kutcherov led experiments to test methane production under simulated high-pressure conditions in a high-surface laboratory).
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Early in his tenure, the DCO decided to invest in new analytical equipment to overcome some of the limitations in determining the source of methane.
With strategic investments in multiple instruments and field samples, DCO partners have pioneered new analytical tools to distinguish terrestrial biotic from abiotic methane.
In 2014, three new tools came online that could change the face of deep carbon science, and they didn’t disappoint, says Edward Young of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), co-leader of DCO’s Deep Energy Community. with Isabelle Daniel at Claude University. Bernard Lyon 1 in Lyon, France.
Using complementary techniques of mass spectrometry and absorption spectroscopy, scientists at UCLA, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena CA, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge MA, analyzed natural methane samples to better understand the processes of abiotic methane production. .
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“The methane molecule (CH4) is very simple, it only has five atoms,” said Dr. youth “Rare isotopes of hydrogen and carbon are sometimes incorporated into methane molecules, and the abundance of these ‘heavy’ isotopes reveals the secrets of how they form and heat.”
Of particular diagnostic value are methane molecules with more than one “heavy” isotope (“isotope family”). These molecules are very rare and can only be distinguished by instruments with very high resolution, sensitivity and mass power.
DCO colleagues used gas samples collected from Chimaera, a deep mine in Canada, an ophiolite in Oman, a hydrothermal vent on the sea floor, and additional sites, and were surprised by what they found.
“We found strange biological footprints in the sample that seem to have an abiotic signature,” said Dr. Daniel. “Microbes seem to know how to use these abiotic components as fuel.”
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Here peridotite (raw rock) reacts with water to form hydrogen in a process called serpentinization, setting the stage for the abiotic formation of methane, while also providing fuel for the microbial life that lives inside its tiny cracks and fissures. Credits: Bernard Marty, Deep Carbon Observatory
“We have clear and growing evidence of abiotic methane on Earth. What’s not clear is how much there is. This study revealed enormous complexity in how methane is produced, and that complexity links inorganic and organic chemistry on Earth in interesting ways. . . .
Help Dr. Of methane, and the speed of this reaction will bring us closer to knowing how much methane there is on Earth.”
Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University in New York points out that the popular definition of “fossil fuel” does not include abiotic methane.
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“Thousands of samples from multiple settings tested with highly sensitive instruments provide a global picture of deep energy abundances and fluxes.
The behavior of biotic and abiotic methane cannot be distinguished, in terms of the release and emission of energy when burning.
Investigating the formation of abiotic methane on Earth is not the end of the story, but the beginning.
In the past 10 years there has been a dramatic shift in our understanding of the origin of methane on Earth and its key role in sustaining the deep biosphere, providing insights into the geological processes that can set life in motion.
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The success of the project’s research has changed not only the perception of energy production within the Earth, but also about how life could have found a place for our planet.
And if abiotic energy occurs on Earth, what are the possibilities for similar reactions and life elsewhere in the cosmos?
The Deep Energy findings released today are the result of the Deep Carbon Observatory program, which will publish its final report in October 2019 after ten years of work by a global community of more than 1,000 scientists to better understand the amount, action, form and origin. carbon in the soil.
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