Public Release: 

EARTH: Source code: The methane race

American Geosciences Institute

Alexandria, VA -What is the lifespan of a natural gas deposit? How quickly is our planet's permafrost melting? And does life exist on other planets? Although seemingly unrelated issues, the answers to these questions are linked. And in this month's issue of EARTH Magazine, scientists show that we may be closer to answering them than we think.

Ten years ago, John Eiler, a geochemist at Caltech, couldn't convince anyone to build him his dream machine. He wanted a mass spectrometer that could measure the mass of common gases with extreme precision and sensitivity. Using methane, this instrument could potentially unlock the answers to many unsolved questions and provide us with a whole new perspective on paleoclimate and ancient temperatures.

Eiler has already been successful in modifying a standard mass spectrometer to use isotopologues (chemically identical, but isotopically different molecules) of carbon dioxide as a time-traveling thermometer. So far, this technology has discovered the body temperature of woolly mammoths and dinosaurs, and has even pinned down highly disputed ocean temperatures hundreds of millions of years old. Now, as EARTH explores in Source Code: The Methane Race, available at, the race is on to use methane as a proxy to identify and solve new mysteries.

Crack the methane source code and read other great stories in the January of issue of EARTH Magazine, available online now at Discover what gives dinoflagellates their glow; find India's missing ground; and view the latest bolide strike models in the most recent issue of EARTH.


Keep up to date with the latest happenings in Earth, energy and environment news with EARTH magazine online at Published by the American Geosciences Institute, EARTH is your source for the science behind the headlines.

The American Geosciences Institute is a nonprofit federation of 50 geoscientific and professional associations that represents more than 250,000 geologists, geophysicists and other earth scientists. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice of shared interests in the profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in society's use of resources, resiliency to natural hazards, and interaction with the environment.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.