Kessler John D.

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John D.

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  • Article
    Limited contribution of ancient methane to surface waters of the U.S. Beaufort Sea shelf
    (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2018-01-17) Sparrow, Katy J. ; Kessler, John D. ; Southon, John R. ; Garcia-Tigreros, Fenix ; Schreiner, Kathryn M. ; Ruppel, Carolyn D. ; Miller, John B. ; Lehman, Scott J. ; Xu, Xiaomei
    In response to warming climate, methane can be released to Arctic Ocean sediment and waters from thawing subsea permafrost and decomposing methane hydrates. However, it is unknown whether methane derived from this sediment storehouse of frozen ancient carbon reaches the atmosphere. We quantified the fraction of methane derived from ancient sources in shelf waters of the U.S. Beaufort Sea, a region that has both permafrost and methane hydrates and is experiencing significant warming. Although the radiocarbon-methane analyses indicate that ancient carbon is being mobilized and emitted as methane into shelf bottom waters, surprisingly, we find that methane in surface waters is principally derived from modern-aged carbon. We report that at and beyond approximately the 30-m isobath, ancient sources that dominate in deep waters contribute, at most, 10 ± 3% of the surface water methane. These results suggest that even if there is a heightened liberation of ancient carbon–sourced methane as climate change proceeds, oceanic oxidation and dispersion processes can strongly limit its emission to the atmosphere.
  • Article
    Ideas and perspectives: a strategic assessment of methane and nitrous oxide measurements in the marine environment
    (European Geosciences Union, 2020-11-26) Wilson, Samuel T. ; Al-Haj, Alia N. ; Bourbonnais, Annie ; Frey, Claudia ; Fulweiler, Robinson W. ; Kessler, John D. ; Marchant, Hannah K. ; Milucka, Jana ; Ray, Nicholas E. ; Suntharalingam, Parvadha ; Thornton, Brett F. ; Upstill-Goddard, Robert C. ; Weber, Thomas S. ; Arévalo-Martínez, Damian L. ; Bange, Hermann W. ; Benway, Heather M. ; Bianchi, Daniele ; Borges, Alberto V. ; Chang, Bonnie X. ; Crill, Patrick M. ; del Valle, Daniela A. ; Farías, Laura ; Joye, Samantha B. ; Kock, Annette ; Labidi, Jabrane ; Manning, Cara C. ; Pohlman, John W. ; Rehder, Gregor ; Sparrow, Katy J. ; Tortell, Philippe D. ; Treude, Tina ; Valentine, David L. ; Ward, Bess B. ; Yang, Simon ; Yurganov, Leonid N.
    In the current era of rapid climate change, accurate characterization of climate-relevant gas dynamics – namely production, consumption, and net emissions – is required for all biomes, especially those ecosystems most susceptible to the impact of change. Marine environments include regions that act as net sources or sinks for numerous climate-active trace gases including methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The temporal and spatial distributions of CH4 and N2O are controlled by the interaction of complex biogeochemical and physical processes. To evaluate and quantify how these mechanisms affect marine CH4 and N2O cycling requires a combination of traditional scientific disciplines including oceanography, microbiology, and numerical modeling. Fundamental to these efforts is ensuring that the datasets produced by independent scientists are comparable and interoperable. Equally critical is transparent communication within the research community about the technical improvements required to increase our collective understanding of marine CH4 and N2O. A workshop sponsored by Ocean Carbon and Biogeochemistry (OCB) was organized to enhance dialogue and collaborations pertaining to marine CH4 and N2O. Here, we summarize the outcomes from the workshop to describe the challenges and opportunities for near-future CH4 and N2O research in the marine environment.
  • Dataset
    Radiocarbon DIC, DIC concentration, pH, and [CH4] in Hudson Canyon, northern US Atlantic Margin collected from R/V Endeavor cruise EN541 in July 2014
    (Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office (BCO-DMO). Contact:, 2019-11-15) Kessler, John D.
    Radiocarbon DIC, DIC concentration, pH, and [CH4] in Hudson Canyon, northern US Atlantic Margin collected from R/V Endeavor cruise EN541 in July 2014. For a complete list of measurements, refer to the full dataset description in the supplemental file 'Dataset_description.pdf'. The most current version of this dataset is available at:
  • Article
    Estimating the impact of seep methane oxidation on ocean pH and dissolved inorganic radiocarbon along the US Mid-Atlantic Bight
    (American Geophysical Union, 2020-12-23) Garcia-Tigreros, Fenix ; Leonte, Mihai ; Ruppel, Carolyn D. ; Ruiz-Angulo, Angel ; Joung, DongJoo ; Young, Benjamin ; Kessler, John D.
    Ongoing ocean warming can release methane (CH4) currently stored in ocean sediments as free gas and gas hydrates. Once dissolved in ocean waters, this CH4 can be oxidized to carbon dioxide (CO2). While it has been hypothesized that the CO2 produced from aerobic CH4 oxidation could enhance ocean acidification, a previous study conducted in Hudson Canyon shows that CH4 oxidation has a small short‐term influence on ocean pH and dissolved inorganic radiocarbon. Here we expand upon that investigation to assess the impact of widespread CH4 seepage on CO2 chemistry and possible accumulation of this carbon injection along 234 km of the U.S. Mid‐Atlantic Bight. Consistent with the estimates from Hudson Canyon, we demonstrate that a small fraction of ancient CH4‐derived carbon is being assimilated into the dissolved inorganic radiocarbon (mean fraction of 0.5 ± 0.4%). The areas with the highest fractions of ancient carbon coincide with elevated CH4 concentration and active gas seepage. This suggests that aerobic CH4 oxidation has a greater influence on the dissolved inorganic pool in areas where CH4 concentrations are locally elevated, instead of displaying a cumulative effect downcurrent from widespread groupings of CH4 seeps. A first‐order approximation of the input rate of ancient‐derived dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) into the waters overlying the northern U.S. Mid‐Atlantic Bight further suggests that oxidation of ancient CH4‐derived carbon is not negligible on the global scale and could contribute to deepwater acidification over longer time scales.
  • Article
    Determining the flux of methane into Hudson Canyon at the edge of methane clathrate hydrate stability
    (John Wiley & Sons, 2016-10-13) Weinstein, Alexander ; Navarrete, Luis ; Ruppel, Carolyn D. ; Weber, Thomas C. ; Leonte, Mihai ; Kellermann, Matthias Y. ; Arrington, Eleanor C. ; Valentine, David L. ; Scranton, Mary I. ; Kessler, John D.
    Methane seeps were investigated in Hudson Canyon, the largest shelf-break canyon on the northern U.S. Atlantic Margin. The seeps investigated are located at or updip of the nominal limit of methane clathrate hydrate stability. The acoustic identification of bubble streams was used to guide water column sampling in a 32 km2 region within the canyon's thalweg. By incorporating measurements of dissolved methane concentration with methane oxidation rates and current velocity into a steady state box model, the total emission of methane to the water column in this region was estimated to be 12 kmol methane per day (range: 6–24 kmol methane per day). These analyses suggest that the emitted methane is largely retained inside the canyon walls below 300 m water depth, and that it is aerobically oxidized to near completion within the larger extent of Hudson Canyon. Based on estimated methane emissions and measured oxidation rates, the oxidation of this methane to dissolved CO2 is expected to have minimal influences on seawater pH.
  • Article
    The interaction of climate change and methane hydrates
    (John Wiley & Sons, 2017-02-08) Ruppel, Carolyn D. ; Kessler, John D.
    Gas hydrate, a frozen, naturally-occurring, and highly-concentrated form of methane, sequesters significant carbon in the global system and is stable only over a range of low-temperature and moderate-pressure conditions. Gas hydrate is widespread in the sediments of marine continental margins and permafrost areas, locations where ocean and atmospheric warming may perturb the hydrate stability field and lead to release of the sequestered methane into the overlying sediments and soils. Methane and methane-derived carbon that escape from sediments and soils and reach the atmosphere could exacerbate greenhouse warming. The synergy between warming climate and gas hydrate dissociation feeds a popular perception that global warming could drive catastrophic methane releases from the contemporary gas hydrate reservoir. Appropriate evaluation of the two sides of the climate-methane hydrate synergy requires assessing direct and indirect observational data related to gas hydrate dissociation phenomena and numerical models that track the interaction of gas hydrates/methane with the ocean and/or atmosphere. Methane hydrate is likely undergoing dissociation now on global upper continental slopes and on continental shelves that ring the Arctic Ocean. Many factors—the depth of the gas hydrates in sediments, strong sediment and water column sinks, and the inability of bubbles emitted at the seafloor to deliver methane to the sea-air interface in most cases—mitigate the impact of gas hydrate dissociation on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations though. There is no conclusive proof that hydrate-derived methane is reaching the atmosphere now, but more observational data and improved numerical models will better characterize the climate-hydrate synergy in the future.
  • Preprint
    Chemical data quantify Deepwater Horizon hydrocarbon flow rate and environmental distribution
    ( 2011-11-11) Ryerson, Thomas B. ; Camilli, Richard ; Kessler, John D. ; Kujawinski, Elizabeth B. ; Reddy, Christopher M. ; Valentine, David L. ; Atlas, Elliot ; Blake, Donald R. ; de Gouw, Joost ; Meinardi, Simone ; Parrish, David D. ; Peischl, Jeff ; Seewald, Jeffrey S. ; Warneke, Carsten
    Detailed airborne, surface, and subsurface chemical measurements, primarily obtained in May and June 2010, are used to quantify initial hydrocarbon compositions along different transport pathways – in deep subsurface plumes, in the initial surface slick, and in the atmosphere – during the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. Atmospheric measurements are consistent with a limited area of surfacing oil, with implications for leaked hydrocarbon mass transport and oil drop size distributions. The chemical data further suggest relatively little variation in leaking hydrocarbon composition over time. While readily soluble hydrocarbons made up ~25% of the leaking mixture by mass, subsurface chemical data show these compounds made up ~69% of the deep plume mass; only ~31% of deep plume mass was initially transported in the form of trapped oil droplets. Mass flows along individual transport pathways are also derived from atmospheric and subsurface chemical data. Subsurface hydrocarbon composition, dissolved oxygen, and dispersant data are used to provide a new assessment of release of hydrocarbons from the leaking well. We use the chemical measurements to estimate that (7.8±1.9) x106 kg of hydrocarbons leaked on June 10, 2010, directly accounting for roughly three-quarters of the total leaked mass on that day. The average environmental release rate of (10.1 ± 2.0) x106 kg/day derived using atmospheric and subsurface chemical data agrees within uncertainties with the official average leak rate of (10.2 ± 1.0) x106 kg/day derived using physical and optical methods.
  • Article
    Surface methane concentrations along the mid-Atlantic bight driven by aerobic subsurface production rather than seafloor gas seeps.
    (American Geophysical Union, 2020-04-04) Leonte, Mihai ; Ruppel, Carolyn D. ; Ruiz-Angulo, Angel ; Kessler, John D.
    Relatively minor amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, are currently emitted from the oceans to the atmosphere, but such methane emissions have been hypothesized to increase as oceans warm. Here, we investigate the source, distribution, and fate of methane released from the upper continental slope of the U.S. Mid‐Atlantic Bight, where hundreds of gas seeps have been discovered between the shelf break and ~1,600 m water depth. Using physical, chemical, and isotopic analyses, we identify two main sources of methane in the water column: seafloor gas seeps and in situ aerobic methanogenesis which primarily occurs at 100–200 m depth in the water column. Stable isotopic analyses reveal that water samples collected at all depths were significantly impacted by aerobic methane oxidation, the dominant methane sink in this region, with the average fraction of methane oxidized being 50%. Due to methane oxidation in the deeper water column, below 200 m depth, surface concentrations of methane are influenced more by methane sources found near the surface (0–10 m depth) and in the subsurface (10–200 m depth), rather than seafloor emissions at greater depths.
  • Article
    Using carbon isotope fractionation to constrain the extent of methane dissolution into the water column surrounding a natural hydrocarbon gas seep in the northern Gulf of Mexico
    (American Geophysical Union, 2018-10-20) Leonte, Mihai ; Wang, Binbin ; Socolofsky, Scott A. ; Mau, Susan ; Breier, John A. ; Kessler, John D.
    A gas bubble seep located in the northern Gulf of Mexico was investigated over several days to determine whether changes in the stable carbon isotopic ratio of methane can be used as a tracer for methane dissolution through the water column. Gas bubble and water samples were collected at the seafloor and throughout the water column for isotopic ratio analysis of methane. Our results show that changes in methane isotopic ratios are consistent with laboratory experiments that measured the isotopic fractionation from methane dissolution. A Rayleigh isotope model was applied to the isotope data to determine the fraction of methane dissolved at each depth. On average, the fraction of methane dissolved surpasses 90% past an altitude of 400 m above the seafloor. Methane dissolution was also investigated using a modified version of the Texas A&M Oil spill (Outfall) Calculator (TAMOC) where changes in methane isotopic ratios could be calculated. The TAMOC model results show that dissolution depends on depth and bubble size, explaining the spread in measured isotopic ratios during our investigations. Both the Rayleigh and TAMOC models show that methane bubbles quickly dissolve following emission from the seafloor. Together, these results show that it is possible to use measurements of natural methane isotopes to constrain the extent of methane dissolution following seafloor emission.
  • Dataset
    Radiocarbon in methane from waters of the US Atlantic and Pacific margins as collected on R/V Hugh Sharp cruise HRS1713 and R/V Rachel Carson cruise RC0026 in 2017 and 2019
    (Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office (BCO-DMO). Contact:, 2021-09-29) Kessler, John D. ; Joung, DongJoo
    Water column distribution of radiocarbon (14C) and concentrations of dissolved methane (CH4) collected from US-Atlantic and US-Pacific Margins in 2017 and 2019, respectively. For a complete list of measurements, refer to the full dataset description in the supplemental file 'Dataset_description.pdf'. The most current version of this dataset is available at:
  • Dataset
    Carbon isotopes (13C and 14C) and concentrations of dissolved methane (CH4) in surface waters sampled in June 2019 at the Coal Oil Point seep field of the Santa Barbara Basin
    (Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office (BCO-DMO). Contact:, 2020-09-21) Joung, DongJoo ; Kessler, John D.
    Carbon isotopes (13C and 14C) and concentrations of dissolved methane (CH4) in surface waters sampled in June 2019 at the Coal Oil Point seep field of the Santa Barbara Basin. For a complete list of measurements, refer to the full dataset description in the supplemental file 'Dataset_description.pdf'. The most current version of this dataset is available at: