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Gas hydrates stored at the bottom of the European seas could be the energy of the future

An interesting study carried out by researchers at the University of Southampton confirms the existence of large deposits of gas hydrate to bridge the gap between fossil fuels and renewable sources if only the latter were to be used. Gas hydrate, or “gas hydrate,” also known as “burning ice,” is a gas usually stored in large quantities in a solid ice-like form. It consists of water and natural gas (often methane) and is usually found under the sea bed or near the coast.

Recent research had already shown that this gas could play a role in coal replacement in the coming decades, at least until the level of renewable energy is sufficient overall. This study represents a sort of “inventory” of gas hydrate deposits and was created in the context of the European Commission funded project called MIGRATE (Marine Gas Hydrates: An Indigenous Resource of Natural Gas for Europe).

The researchers have identified several sites where there are direct or indirect indications of the presence of hydrated gas. These sites are located on the west and east coasts of Greenland, in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, off the coast of Norway and the west of Ireland and in some limited areas of the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.

“We have found that gas hydrates are particularly widespread around Svalbard, off Norway and in the Black Sea, but the hydrate systems have only been well analyzed in some areas, so there may still be a lot to discover,” says Tim Minshull, a researcher at the University of Southampton who led the study team.

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Discovery of two “potentially inhabitable” super-Earths around nearby red dwarfs

In an article published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, the discovery of other interesting exoplanets is announced, one of which is a cold Neptunian and two are “potentially habitable” super-Earths. The two potentially habitable planets are those orbiting GJ180 (Gliese 180) and GJ229A (Gliese 229), two red dwarfs relatively close to the Sun: the first is 40 light-years away while the second is 19 light-years away and also has a smaller companion, a brown dwarf (GJ229B).

Both these two planets (GJ180d and GJ229Ac) are superterrestrial, i.e. versions with a larger mass and size than the Earth. The exoplanet orbiting GJ180 has a mass 7.5 times greater than the Earth while the one orbiting GJ229A has a mass 7.9 times greater. The orbital periods are 106 and 122 days respectively.

The cold Neptunian (GJ 433 d), instead, orbits around GJ433 (Gliese 433), another red dwarf located 29.5 light-years away from us. All the planets have been discovered using the radial velocity method, that is the method that detects the imperceptible gravity that the planet impresses on its star, gravity that creates small oscillations that can be revealed with advanced instruments from Earth.

The red dwarfs are among the most common stars in our galaxy and, although they are less bright and smaller than our Sun, they can still boast planets that orbit in the so-called “habitable zone”, that orbital area within which a planet can have liquid water on its surface thanks to an almost mild temperature. Usually, the planets that orbit around the red dwarfs always have the same face facing the star, something that splits the planet in two: a hot area and a very cold area, which of course is not favorable for life (although it does not completely exclude it according to different theories).

GJ180d, instead, orbits as it orbits the Earth around the Sun, therefore not always showing the same face facing the star, which raises the probability of habitability and therefore of possible presence of life. GJ229Ac is instead interesting because, besides orbiting around the red dwarf, it also orbits around the companion of the latter, a brown dwarf. It is one of the first exoplanets ever identified that orbit around a brown dwarf, which may help to untangle the doubts about the possibility that such a star can also host planets around it in non-binary systems.

The ultimate goal, as Jeff Crane, one of the authors of the study, adds, is to build a detailed map of all the planets orbiting the stars closest to the Sun so that with future space telescopes these planets can be properly analyzed, especially those potentially habitable.

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Oceans hit record-high temperatures in 2019

The ocean heat during 2019 was record-breaking according to a new study in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. In 2019, the oceans were warmer than any other measurement made in human history and this mainly concerns the stretch from the surface to a depth of 2000 meters.

The study, produced by an international team, shows that the global temperature of the oceans is not simply increasing but is even accelerating. In fact, the temperature of the oceans during 2019 was 0.075 °C above the average between 1981 and 2010.

In 2019 alone, on average, the world’s oceans absorbed an amount of heat equivalent to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atomic bomb explosions: this is the comparison made by Lijing Cheng, principal author of the study, to help us understand the absorption of heat, calculated in 228 sextillion joules, by the oceans in 2019.

“This measured ocean warming is irrefutable and is further evidence of global warming. There are no reasonable alternatives other than human gas emissions trapping heat to explain this warming,” says the researcher who is an associate professor at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The researchers have analyzed heat trends in the global oceans since the 1950s. Among the data are also those recorded by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

According to John Abraham, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at St. Thomas University in the United States, another author of the study, the oceans are the place where the vast majority of the heat produced outside of it goes: “If you want to understand global warming, you have to measure the warming of the oceans.”

The effects of warming the oceans at these levels are already being felt through extreme weather conditions that go beyond the sea level rise itself and manifest themselves in hurricanes and storms that can, in turn, lead to very serious damage even in economic terms. And according to Abraham, these effects would only be the “tip of the iceberg” because the situation is getting worse.