Science 2009 Feb 15;323(5917):1041-5. Epub 2009 Jan 15.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Mailstop 690.3, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA.
Living systems produce more than 90% of Earth's atmospheric methane; the balance is of geochemical origin. On Mars, methane could be a signature of either origin. Using high-dispersion infrared spectrometers at three ground-based telescopes, we measured methane and water vapor simultaneously on Mars over several longitude intervals in northern early and late summer in 2003 and near the vernal equinox in 2006. When present, methane occurred in extended plumes, and the maxima of latitudinal profiles imply that the methane was released from discrete regions. In northern midsummer, the principal plume contained approximately 19,000 metric tons of methane, and the estimated source strength (>/=0.6 kilogram per second) was comparable to that of the massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara, California.