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Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: Eternal flame

by Manny Morone
January 29, 2019

A flame flickers in a small cavity beneath a mostly frozen waterfall.
Credit: Outside Chronicles via YouTube

In the frozen woods of western New York state, light shimmers from inside a grotto at Eternal Flame Falls. Even in winter after the waterfall ices over, visitors can ignite this natural gas seepage coming from the rock formation below the falls and watch the flame emerge again. Eternal Flame Falls stands out among other natural flames because it’s so close to a running waterfall. Also, the content of the natural gas it emits is different—it is unusually high in ethane and propane. The two compounds make up 35% of Eternal Flame Falls’ gas, which stands in contrast to the 5–10% ethane and propane and about 90% methane in typical natural gas from other sites. The gas content at different sites can depend on the organisms that lived there millions of years ago and on the bacteria living in the wells today that can digest and convert gases into other compounds.

Credit: Outside Chronicles via YouTube

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