In Depth

Red Sea ‘as bad for pollution as major oil nations’ - but how?

Unique geographical features cause natural greenhouse gas emissions, study finds

The Red Sea is causing greenhouse gas pollution as bad as that produced by major oil-producing countries, according to a new report.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany found that the Red Sea releases 220,000 tonnes of naturally occurring hydrocarbon gases annually, The Times reports.

This is comparable to the man-made pollution produced by major oil producers such as Iraq, the UAE and Kuwait.

How is the Red Sea such a pollutant?

The research team made the discovery in 2017, when they noticed that levels of ethane and propane in the air above the Red Sea were up to 40 times higher than predicted, says the Times.

However, they have only now discovered what is causing the high pollution levels.

Ethane and propane gases buried in reservoirs under the sea are rising up and leaking into the atmosphere, Singapore-based The Straits Times reports. 

The gases come from deposits in the Gulf of Suez and Aquaba, which “mix with emissions from industrial shipping and turn into noxious pollutants that are very harmful to human health”, the paper adds.

How is the Red Sea different from others?

“The Red Sea... has some unique geological features,” says the study, led by Efstratios Bourtsoukidis.

This is because the water in the Red Sea, which ranges from 300m to 2,000m deep, is the warmest and saltiest deep water in the world

According to iflscience.com, the saltiness means the sea has “exceptionally efficient saline transportation systems”, which also allows the gases to reach the surface.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Start your trial subscription today –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Will it get worse?

Yes, according to the experts. 

The Max Planck team believes that because of the way deep-water circulation works, the emissions in the winter are likely to be higher than the summer, when their measurements were made. An expected rise in shipping levels will also make matters worse, they say.

“In the coming decades, ship traffic through the Red Sea and Suez Canal is expected to continue to increase strongly, with a concomitant rise in nitrogen oxide emissions,” said Boursoukidis.

“Such increase will amplify the role of this source, leading to significant deterioration of the regional air quality.”

As the Times explains, nitrogen oxide emissions “interact with ethane and propane and result in the production of a polluting ‘smog’”. 

Recommended

Human rights, Russian troops and rude town names
A protester is confronted by police
Podcast

Human rights, Russian troops and rude town names

Why Denmark is stripping Syrians of residency
Refugees arriving in Lesbos, Greece, in 2015
In Depth

Why Denmark is stripping Syrians of residency

US allies fear attacks after Biden sets Afghan withdrawal date
Joe Biden departs after announcing the withdrawal of troops
The latest on . . .

US allies fear attacks after Biden sets Afghan withdrawal date

What is COP26 and what are its aims?
A climate change protest outside the Palace of Westminster
Fact file

What is COP26 and what are its aims?

Popular articles

15 most expensive English towns outside of London
Virginia Water, Surrey
In Depth

15 most expensive English towns outside of London

Woman wants Prince Harry arrested for not marrying her
Tall Tales

Woman wants Prince Harry arrested for not marrying her

TV crime dramas to watch in 2021
Sally Lindsay stars in Channel 5’s seaside thriller Intruder
In Review

TV crime dramas to watch in 2021