Scientists in Norway have caused a stir with their announcement this week of giant craters in the Barents Sea, which they believe were formed by exploding natural gas. The scientists have even suggested the phenomenon could explain the mysterious Bermuda Triangle—a highly controversial concept.
Researchers at the Arctic University of Norway have described craters off the coast of the country that are up to a half mile (0.8 kilometer) wide and 150 feet (45 meters) deep. They appear to have been caused by the explosive release of methane, also known as natural gas, that was trapped in the sediment below.
Such sudden releases of gas could potentially pose a danger to ships, the scientists note. It might also explain reports of missing ships and planes in the Bermuda Triangle, a region of ocean bounded by Miami, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico. That's an idea that experts, including Russian scientist Igor Yeltsov, have bandied about in the last few decades.
As National Geographic reported in the October publication "Strange But True," "methane can escape into the air, making the atmosphere highly turbulent and perhaps causing aircraft to crash."
Is the Bermuda Triangle Even Real?
Fear over lost ships and planes in the Bermuda Triangle began about 60 years ago, after five U.S. Navy planes that took off from Florida vanished without a trace. Historians started looking at the records, and found that 300 ships and many other planes were lost in the area throughout the 20th century. Christopher Columbus had even recorded bizarre compass bearings around the triangle on his 1492 voyage.
There have been a number of conspiracy theories about the Bermuda Triangle, but many experts remain unconvinced it even exists.
"The region is highly traveled and has been a busy crossroads since the early days of European exploration," John Reilly, a historian with the U.S. Naval Historical Foundation, previously told National Geographic. "To say quite a few ships and airplanes have gone down there is like saying there are an awful lot of car accidents on the New Jersey Turnpike—surprise, surprise."
In fact, ships and planes “vanish in the Bermuda Triangle as often as they vanish from anywhere else,” scientists have calculated. (See what happens when an author visits the place.)
In other words, those vessels lost in the area were more likely downed due to bad weather and chance mishaps than more exotic explanations like gas hydrates, skeptics say. Putting it bluntly, a 1976 NOVA episode on the topic concluded: “Science does not have to answer questions about the Triangle because those questions are not valid in the first place." (Read more from skeptics.)
What Are Gas Hydrates?
Although their risk to shipping and airplanes is currently speculative, gas hydrates are definitely real. An odorless gas found naturally, and caused by decomposition of organic material, methane becomes solid under the pressure of the ocean and can get locked into ice-like crystals called hydrates.
The ice-like deposits can break off and even explode violently. Releasing the pressure suddenly can be a danger to oil workers, who call the results "burps of death."
Lab tests have suggested such burps could interfere with ship buoyancy or airplane engines, but the possible effects remain unclear in the real world, where many factors might be at play.
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