Skip to main content

Bubbling carbon dioxide vent discovered on the seafloor off the Philippines

A scientist collects gas samples at the newly discovered Soda Springs in the Philippines.
A scientist collects gas samples at the newly discovered Soda Springs in the Philippines.
(Image: © University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences)

Diving hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean off the coast of the Philippines, scientists came across a bubbling hotspot of carbon dioxide. And this newly discovered vent might help us predict how coral reefs will deal with climate change, according to a new study. 

Bayani Cardenas, a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, accidentally discovered this carbon dioxide fountain while researching the effect of groundwater runoff into the ocean environment in the Philippines's Verde Island Passage.

This strait that runs between the Luzon and Mindoro islands, connecting the South China Sea with the Tayabas Bay, is busy on its surface, serving as a prominent shipping route. It's also busy below the surface, where it harbors one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world. And the reefs in this passage, unlike bleached reefs elsewhere, are thriving, according to a statement from The University of Texas.

The researchers named the new hotspot Soda Springs and said that it could have been releasing these bubbles for decades or even millennia.

Related: Photos: Hawaii's New Underwater Volcano

Soda Springs is a result of an underwater volcano, which vents gas and acidic water through cracks in the ocean floor. The researchers found carbon dioxide concentrations as high as 95,000 parts per million (ppm) near the springs, which is over 200 times the concentration present in the atmosphere, according to the statement.

The levels quickly fell as the gas flowed into the massive ocean, but the seafloor released enough gas to create elevated levels (400 to 600 ppm) and enough acidic water to lower the pH for the nearby coastline. This might thus be an ideal spot for studying how other coral reefs around the world may cope with climate change as it brings more carbon dioxide into their environments, Cardenes said in the statement.

What's more, by tracing levels of radon-222, a naturally occurring radioactive isotope found in groundwater local to the area, the team discovered hotspots on the seafloor where groundwater was being discharged into the ocean. "Groundwater flow from land to sea could have important coastal impacts, but it is usually unrecognized," the authors wrote in the study. "Delicate reefs may be particularly sensitive to groundwater inputs."

The researchers found that groundwater and seawater appeared in different relative amounts in different areas of Soda Springs. This variable mixing means that "the groundwater flow could be contributing to the evolution and functioning of the ecosystem," the authors wrote.

However, the presence of these passageways might also mean that there is a way for pollutants from the island to make it into the coral reefs, Cardenes said in the statement. In the Philippines, where coastal development has surged, people are using septic tanks instead of modern sewage systems, which can easily pump waste into the reefs, Cardenes said.

It's not clear how these reefs thrive in a carbon-dioxide-rich environment, but then again, not much is known about this area. "It's really a big part of the ocean that is left unexplored," Cardenes said in the statement. "It's too shallow for remotely operated vehicles and is too deep for regular divers."

The findings were published on Jan. 3 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Originally published on Live Science.

How It Works Banner

Want more science? Get a subscription of our sister publication "How It Works" magazine, for the latest amazing science news.  (Image credit: Future plc)
  • Bashing Sophistry
    Clearly, coral adapts to varying CO2 levels. I guess this means doomsayers will have to reevaluate their rhetoric.

    BTW, CO2 levels have fluctuated for eons in earths oceans and atmosphere, as high as 7000 PPM during at least two epochs. And all life on earth didn't die. Life adapts.
    Reply
  • TolusD
    Bashing Sophistry said:
    Clearly, coral adapts to varying CO2 levels. I guess this means doomsayers will have to reevaluate their rhetoric.

    BTW, CO2 levels have fluctuated for eons in earths oceans and atmosphere, as high as 7000 PPM during at least two epochs. And all life on earth didn't die. Life adapts.


    It does, but adaptation is ugly and brutal and somewhat predictable yet completely objective in what it chooses to destroy. I don't care about laying blame for atmospheric carbon. But it is off the charts right now and things are changing and as you said, life will adapt. So that should be the focus of our narrative. Not blame, not banning straws, not shopping more at Whole Foods, but our survival as a species when life on this planet invariably adapts to what's been happening.

    It's very easy to say "life adapts" but if the climate adapts in a way that causes humans to have to flee coastal areas or in a way that changes the jet stream just enough to disrupt the flow of African silt into the Atlantic so there are no more plankton blooms, what happens to "life" then? Specifically, what happens to modern human life? Is it a level of adaptation that you think we're ready for?
    Reply