Is the World about to End?

??Is the World about to End?

There has been a story sweeping across America that claims that the recent BP Gulf disaster could have triggered a mass extinction event on a scale the world hasn't seen in 251 million years.

Around that time there was a mass extinction event, killing of 96% of all the life on the Earth, known as the Permian extinction event it is generally considered to be the greatest mass extinction in the history of the world, there are a few theories about the cause (no one's actually old enough to know for sure) and one of these is that there was a massive release of methane and other toxic gases released into the atmosphere from a crack in the sea floor.

55.8 million years ago there was another of these mass extinction events on a slightly smaller scale, known as the Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum which lasted about 100 000 years. Global Temperatures rose around 6C and caused a huge change in the life on earth which included the eventual arrival of the primates.

So what does this have to do with the BP disaster? Well, according to an article written on the website Helium, there have been reports from the BP salvage operation that this mass explosion of methane from the sea bed may be about to happen again, caused by the unstable drilling operation. Gregory Ryskin, a bio-chemical engineer at Northwestern University has theorised and documented evidence that such an event could have been responsible for the mass extinction mentioned above and many geologists are concurring with his findings:

The consequences of a methane-driven oceanic eruption for marine and terrestrial life are likely to be catastrophic. Figuratively speaking, the erupting region "boils over," ejecting a large amount of methane and other gases (e.g., CO2, H2S) into the atmosphere, and flooding large areas of land. Whereas pure methane is lighter than air, methane loaded with water droplets is much heavier, and thus spreads over the land, mixing with air in the process (and losing water as rain). The air-methane mixture is explosive at methane concentrations between 5% and 15%; as such mixtures form in different locations near the ground and are ignited by lightning, explosions and conflagrations destroy most of the terrestrial life, and also produce great amounts of smoke and of carbon dioxide..

What the Helium article doesn't tell us though is that Ryskin predicted that this would have taken a considerable amount of time, and it's generally considered that the End Permian extinction took millennia to happen.

According to Helium's report, the warning signs of such an event happening would be the appearance of large fissures or rifts splitting open the ocean floor, a rise in the elevation of the seabed, and the massive venting of methane and other gases into the surrounding water.

According to the report all 3 warning signs are currently happening in the Gulf, cracks in the seabed have appeared, gases including methane, benzene and hydrogen sulfide are leaking into the ocean and the height of the seabed could have risen by as much as 30 feet.

The methane under the sea bed is currently in a solid, frozen form but the stream of heated oil nearby could in theory help to melt the frozen methane. The final words in the article say "experts" agree that if the world-changing event does occur it will happen suddenly and within the next 6 months, these "experts" are not however mentioned by name, nor sited in the footer.

So if this article is accurate why hasn't it been reported in the major newspapers, News channels and websites? Why isn't the BBC running news articles about the possibility of the mass extinction of the human race?

Looking at the sources behind the story, Reuters reported way back in June that as much as 1 million times the normal levels of Methane were being found in areas near the oil spill, but nothings been reported since then (which would tend to indicate it hasn't at least got worse).

Washinton Post also ran a story in June that mentioned BP admitting it has damaged areas beneath the sea floor and an anonymous spokesperson for BP was reported as saying "We discovered things that were broken in the sub-surface", which doesn't sound very reassuring, especially as he couldn't be more descriptive than "things".

There are other sources quoted in the article but none of them show any firm evidence of the actual damage, so either there is a big coverup that has stopped this news "leaking out" (pun intended), or this article is just a load of "hot air" (pun intended again).

Given the severe nature of the story you would have thought that if a content writer for Helium found this information, highly paid journalists for the national newspapers would have also found something too. While it's quite scary to think of all that Methane pumping out back in June, this doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to blow any time soon.

Digging a little deeper (don't try that at home BP), we are not the first to debunk this overblown story, those overactive bloggers at IO9 have denounced the story and have even gone to the trouble of interviewing a few scientists too - Dave Valentine of UC Santa Barbara and Chris Reddy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute who said:

During our recent cruise to the Gulf we observed significantly elevated levels of methane at water depth greater than 2500 feet, in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon spill site. While the total quantity of methane and other hydrocarbons is enough to cause problems with the regional ecosystem, there is no plausible scenario by which this event alone will cause global-scale extinctions.

So it's very unlikely that we are all going to die within the next 6 months, or at least from this disaster anyway...