Mechanism of Faster CH4 Bubble Growth Under Surface Waves in Muddy Aquatic Sediments: Effects of Wave Amplitude, Period, and Water Depth

Abhishek Painuly, Regina Katsman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Methane (CH4) transport from organic-rich fine-grained (muddy) shallow aquatic sediments to water column is mediated dominantly by discrete bubbles, which is an important natural source of greenhouse CH4. The lifespan of these bubbles within the sediment comprises two successive stages: growth from nucleation up to a mature size and then buoyant ascent toward the sediment–water interface. Bubbles often experience an oscillating overburden load due to the passage of winds and/or storm-induced short period surface waves or long-period tides, which can potentially affect both stages of the bubble’s lifespan. However, little is known about the wave effects over bubble growth phase. In the present work, this subject is investigated using a numerical single-bubble mechanical/solute transport model, which quantifies the effects of different parameters (amplitude and period) of the wave loading and of the water depth, over the bubble growth pattern in sediments and its specific characteristics. It was found that bubbles induce early sediment fracturing in the presence of waves, attributed to the low overburden load appearing at wave troughs. Bubbles at shallow depth rapidly grow at wave troughs by inducing multiple intense fracturing events. However, this ability decreases with an increasing water depth because of a slower solute influx. In the presence of waves, bubbles mature in shorter time, whose contrast to the no wave case is controlled by the ratio of wave amplitude to equilibrium water depth. Due to the higher frequency of occurrence of wave troughs for shorter-period waves, bubble growth is accelerated compared with the case of longer-period waves. Overall, our modeling suggests that the fastest bubble growth can be predicted for higher amplitude, short-period waves traveling in shallow water. We further infer that accelerated bubble growth, along with subsequent wave-induced ascent can sufficiently shorten the bubble’s total lifespan in sediment, which explains the observed episodic in situ ebullitions correlated with wind- or storm-induced waves.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number833918
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
StatePublished - 17 Mar 2022


  • bubble growth
  • fracture mechanics
  • gassy sediment
  • methane bubbles
  • modeling
  • muddy sediment
  • sediment fracturing

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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