Image copyright ASU
A long-lost natural gas flow in the ground was detected on Thursday by researchers in California at the country’s first on-site study of atmospheric carbon dioxide, scientists say.
The find may represent the first sighting of life in California’s Monterey Shale formation, scientists say.
The gas is being released by the oil and gas industry there, which is using it to bolster weak reservoirs and make pipelines.
A review of data will be conducted and subsequent analyses could yield more good news.
Our sister site, Discovery, explains: “Previously, it was only possible to detect methane if you had a gas sensor set into the rock where it was coming from, often in carbon-rich environments, such as the Arctic.”
Cal Poly University has set up a scientific observatory at 2,500 feet (800 metres) below ground in central California where they can monitor the gas as it is released.
In preparation for the system to be commissioned, scientists will now conduct additional tests and analysis. They hope this will ultimately point to the location of life in the oil and gas aquifer system.
The lead author of the study, Conner Ramsey, professor of civil and environmental engineering at California Poly, said that having detected the gas at a site where there was plenty of fresh water made the find a great opportunity to look for life.
“It’s high probability that the methane is coming from below the lake water and it’s really good news that in one place we’ve found it. That’s really exciting,” he said.
“These are rocks that we’ve been sitting on for a very long time where this stuff could be buried deep down. The fact that we find this, what are the next questions?”
The researchers hope that by studying the energy release and possible bio-environment, they can eventually find ecosystems that are in the process of spreading.
“There might be a window for understanding some of the characteristics of life that might occur as it travels,” said Mr Ramsey.
Image copyright ASU Image caption Scientists will now conduct additional tests and analysis.
He added that the team could also look at changes in the microbes and ecosystems that follow the release.
Other scientists were also heartened by the discovery. Dr Chad Nerney, from the University of South Florida, said, “The (survey) showed clearly there is active methane release that happens at the injection sites, and we have similar observation data with the vent sites around the central California coastline.”
“The fact that this is the first site to show plumes of methane suggests they could be where sources of life in the [Central California] area have been found,” he added.
“It’s certainly a good indication that they’re probably not isolated to discrete episodes where life’s occur. It’s possible that life might be widespread.”