Scientists who have confirmed that abiotic hydrocarbons are being released from the Lost City hydrothermal field in the Mid-Atlantic range at the bottom of the ocean say they are returning to that location this summer to try to confirm the presence of more complex hydrocarbon chains, a result that would further undermine the assumption that oils are the result of decomposed and compressed organisms.
"We looked for C1-C4 hydrocarbons – alkanes, alkenes and alkynes – and detected them all," Giora Proskurowski, the marine geochemist who headed the Woods Hole team that already has done work at the Lost City site, told WND in an e-mail.
"Last year we did not look for more advanced hydrocarbon chains, but this year we will use the sampling methods required to identify more complex hydrocarbons," he said.
As WND reported, Proskurowski, of the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle, wrote in Science Magazine that Lost City vents at the bottom of the Atlantic were exuding abiotic hydrocarbons formed in the mantle of the earth.
Proskurowski attributed the formation of the observed hydrocarbons to processes identified by the Fischer-Tropsch type (FTT) equations first discovered by Nazi German scientists trying to generate synthetic oil from coal prior to the start of World War II.
At issue is the debate between traditional geologists who believe the origin of oil comes from organic material.
The term "fossil fuel" conveys the organic theory that oil forms from ancient plant and animal life, including ancient forests and decaying dinosaurs.
In modern times, those maintaining the organic theory have shifted ground to argue that organisms as simple as plankton could produce oil in sedimentary rock located near the surface of the earth.
The organic theory of the origin of oil suffered a major blow when NASA announced a probe sent to the surface of Titan, the giant moon of Saturn, had discovered Titan was full of Carbon-13 methane.
Carbon-13 is the isotope of carbon associated with abiotic generation, compared to carbon-12 which is generally associated with organic origins.
The breakthrough in the Woods Hole exploration of the Lost City sea vents indicates simple C1-C4 abiotic hydrocarbon structures are produced from the earth's mantle without the involvement or addition of any organic material whatsoever, scientists said.
Should the scientists find advanced abiotic hydrocarbon chains on their return to the Lost City Mid-Atlantic site this coming summer, it will be further evidence for the abiotic theory of the origin of oil, advancing a 263-year-old scientific debate in favor of the abiotic theory.
The organic theory of the origin of oil can be traced to 1745, when Russian chemist Mikhail Lomonosov first argued, "Rock oil originates as tiny bodies of animals buried in the sediments which, under the influence of increased temperature and pressure acting during an unimaginable long period of time, transform into rock oil."
In 1896, Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev, the scientist who first arranged the periodic table, disagreed with Lomonosov, arguing instead that oil is a primordial material that arises from great depths from within the earth, moving along faults in the earth's bedrock to settle in sedimentary rock just below the earth's surface.
Proskurowski's research is ground-breaking because it suggests abiotic oil may be formed at the sea bottom from processes originating within the mantle of the earth on a constant basis, all as described by FTT-type reactions.
The abiotic theory, should its proof continue to be determined by credible scientific observation, may overturn the organic origin of oil theory, as a result casting doubt on "peak oil" premises.
Peak oil, first postulated in 1956 by Shell Oil scientist M. King Hubbert, argues the earth's available supply of organically generated oil eventually will be exhausted.
Simply put, peak oil suggests that there is a limited amount of fossil (or other biological) material available to deteriorate over eons, so there can be only so much oil.
Abiotic oil suggests oil production within the mantle of the earth may be ongoing and that oil can be generated synthetically, according to physical laws described by the FTT equations.
Proskurowski reported last week the low-molecular-weight hydrocarbons found in the Lost City natural hydrothermal fluids were attributed to Fisher-Tropsch type abiotic production largely because the observed hydrocarbons were found to contain carbon-13 isotope consistent with FTT genesis.
Proskurowski’s findings indicated "the abiotic synthesis of hydrocarbons in nature may occur in the presence of ultramafic rocks, water, and moderate amounts of heat." Ultramafic rocks are igneous and meta-igneous rocks typically found in the earth's mantle.
Proskurowski’s scientific paper specifically cited the FTT equations describing how a process called "serpentinization" creates a reducing chemical environment characterized by high hydrogen concentrations suited to abiotic hydrocarbon productions.
The serpentinization equations, well understood by scientists since at least 1938, show how the abiotic process works in the presence of olivine, a magnesium iron silicate found commonly in the earth's mantle.
A breakthrough in the FTT equations involved the realization that FTT reactions can occur in the deep underwater hydrothermal conditions where dissolved carbon dioxide is the carbon source used to combine with the hydrogen produced by serpentinization to form the simple C1-C4 hydrocarbon chains the Lost Sea scientists have discovered so far.
Proskurowski ruled out seawater bicarbonate as the carbon source for the observed FTT reactions, arguing instead that "a mantle-derived inorganic carbon source is leached from the host rocks."