People concerned about global warming have been worrying over the rate at which we're accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We've been wringing our hands over the possibility the oceans are absorbing less carbon, and that they've already absorbed so much their growing dangerously acidic.
The carbon we've been worried about had been buried in oil and coal deposits millions of years ago; it's released when we burn it.
Well, start worrying about something else: deep carbon.
Deep carbon is the stuff locked in magma, old carbonate rocks and ice lattices beneath the ocean.
"It has long been assumed that this carbon was largely cut off from the surface, and could safely be ignored when analyzing the effect of gases on climate," a New Scientist report reads. "Now it seems there may be much more 'deep carbon' ready to spew out than we thought."
The gun getting ready to smoke is known as clathrates, the ice lattices found beneath the ocean and continental permafrost. The smoke would come in the form of trillions of tons of methane, a greenhouse gas that is not as long-lived as carbon dioxide, but which is about 21-times more potent.
Once that methane is released, it will fuel more rapid global warming, perhaps accelerating the positive feedback loop or setting new loops in motion. In other words: Hotter world, faster.
We are extremely concerned that clathrates are the largest single source of greenhouse gases that could be added to the atmosphere, said Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution, who recently organized a meeting on the subject at the institutions Geophysical Laboratory. If you raise temperatures even slightly, they could be released.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.