EMAN 7 project aims to understand the environmental impact of methane seepage from the sea floor in Lofoten-Vesterålen area in Norway. Methane seepage can cause ocean acidification, which in turn may threaten the ecosystem.
Text: Maja Sojtaric
LoVe Ocean Observatory, launched in 2020, makes it possible to consistently monitor the ocean off the coast of the Norwegian archipelago Lofoten and Vesterålen throughout the seasons. Norway is the first country to have strategically built cabled observatories within a vulnerable ecosystem in an area of high biological productivity as well as intense CH4 emissions. Several monitoring platforms (nodes) are placed on 60-kilometer-long fibre optic and electric cables, making it possible for most of them to be operative 24/7, all year round.
CAGE is involved in the development and implementation of node 7 which is placed near an area of substantial methane seepage, close to a coral reef. Now, researcher, Benedicte Ferré aims to put node 7 to good use in a project that was recently funded by the Research Council of Norway: Environmental impact of Methane seepage and sub-seabed characterization at LoVe-Node 7 (EMAN7).
Continous deterioration of coastal waters
“There is currently a continuous deterioration of coastal waters owing to pollution, and ocean acidification is having an adversarial effect on the functioning of the ecosystem and biodiversity. This is also negatively impacting small-scale fisheries. Our work will directly address some of these concerns, as methane in the water column is hypothesized to increase acidity of the ocean.” Says Ferré, who is leading this project.
EMAN 7 is a multi-disciplinary project where monitoring, sampling, and 3D modelling will be used to provide scenarios of the ecosystem response to climate change and methane release. LoVe Ocean Observatory will act as its laboratory, but due to the nature of the site, the results may be applicable to other similar seepage areas around the globe. One of the partners in the project is Ocean Network Canada, and the exchange of resources and information is planned.
Understanding the life in the ocean is crucial if we are to meet UN sustainable development goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. The ocean is by UN classified as an essential global resource and a key feature of a sustainable future. EMAN7 falls also within the scope of the UN Decade of ocean science.
A critical moment in history
The world is at a critical moment in its history due to the threat posed by climate change. Much focus has been placed on reducing the anthropogenic release of CO2. But another potent greenhouse gas, methane, poses an overlooked threat: Methane associated with underwater reservoirs of hydrocarbons can erupt, as climate warming changes the physical environment in the ocean and reduces its stability.
In addition, increased industrial activities such as oil and gas exploration in hydrocarbon-rich areas may cause the additional release of greenhouse gases altering several biogeochemical processes and threatening the health of local ecosystems. This is why three of the project partners are petroleum companies: Equinor, Total France, and Conoco Phillips (USA).
“It is important for the environmental aspect of exploration to understand past and future impact of the industrial activity. So that the industry does not blindly go into these seepage sites but can minimize the damage to the ecosystem and coral reefs. The combined results of our project will allow a better risk assessment for the petroleum industry. But I need to underline that we are conducting basic, multidisciplinary research that will benefit society as a whole: ranging from technology development to fisheries management.” Says Ferré.