If you’ve been keeping warm with natural gas, or just firing up the stove at night to make dinner, you might want to take a moment to be thankful for – volcanoes. Because without “Hot Lava” (and thank you, B-52s), there might be a lot less natural gas (at least in the United States).
This news comes from scientists at Rice University (with a little help from Shell), and tells a story that goes back to the time of the dinosaurs. Or more precisely, the end of the time of the dinosaurs – the Cretaceous Period, if you remember your paleontology.
We give you a link to the deep science version of this story below, but here’s the ten second synopsis:
During the Cretaceous, there was a time of the volcanoes – hundreds of volcanoes erupting over millions of years, along what would become the West Coast of the United States. From those volcanoes came massive amounts of ash (and lava too, of course), carried by the wind and dumped over what would become the western Midwest, from Texas to Montana.
But in those days, instead of Texas and Montana, there was ocean – since much of our continent was underwater. And while volcanic ash is not something most of us would like to find on our plates, it’s a tasty dish (or some of the stuff in that ash is) for some microorganisms, like the phytoplankton that live in the ocean.
So the phytoplankton go on an eating binge (for millions of years), and since they are the starting point in the ocean food chain – everybody and everything underwater also eats well (for millions of years). And when, in the way of the world, those plants and animals die, fall to the bottom, are covered in sediment, and so forth, over and over and over again – one result of all that carbon (our planet being home to carbon-based life) pressed under the surface is – vast deposits of natural gas.
Which eventually means that when the United States-to-be emerges from under the ocean and dries out – and then (millions of years later), we humans show up – an abundant supply of natural gas is waiting for us, in shale fields from Texas to Montana. (And although this study didn’t look further east, it may be the same for that Marcellus shale gas field that runs through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio.)
It IS still a mystery as to what exactly did in the dinosaurs. It may have been volcanoes that finished off T-rex and company. But now it’s no mystery who many of us have to thank for a warm house in the winter or a roast chicken in the oven – volcanoes!
(And if you want to go deeper into the science, the Rice team published their report on Nature.com.)