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'Eternal Flames' of Ancient Times May Reveal More about Modern Gas Seepages

First Posted: May 20, 2015 07:28 AM EDT

The "eternal flames" that dominated religious and cultural practices of ancient times may spark new interest in geologists. Scientists have now delved into the geomythological stories of ancient times in order to learn a bit more about modern features.

"Knowing present-day gas fluxes from a seep and knowing that a seep was active and vigorous two thousand years ago, we can estimate the total amount of gas that has been released to the atmosphere thus far," said Guiseppe Etiope, one of the researchers, in a news release. "What can be measured today is probably also valid, at least in terms of orders of magnitude, for the past. Such information may not only be relevant for atmospheric methane budget studies but may also be important for understanding the leaking potential of petroleum systems, whether they are commercial or not."

Gas-oil seeps have long been the source of mythological stories. As an example, Pliny the Elder wrote about Chimaera, a large burning gas seep in modern day Turkey. In ancient times, this gas seep had the temple of Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, built next to it.

Similar "eternal fires" were incorporated into religious practices in many cultures. For example, the Zoroastrians worshipped the "Pillars of Fire" near modern Baku in Azerbaijan. In addition, the sacred Manggarmas flame in Indonesia, which has been active at least since the 15th century, is still used in an annual Buddhist ceremony.

"Knowing that a certain 'eternal fire' observed today was already active in Biblical times indicates that it was not triggered by the recent drilling and production of petroleum," said Etiope.

By correlating ancient texts with modern locations, researchers can better understand how long one of these "eternal fires" has been active. This, in turn, can help inform future studies.

The findings are published in the journal Natural Gas Seepage.

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