Permafrost and methane

September 30, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

You might have caught sight of this disturbing piece of environmental news last week. Seems the Arctic Sea is bubbling with methane, in an area to the west of the Norwegian island of Svalbard. British scientists have just discovered that millions of tons of this greenhouse gas, 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is being released into the atmosphere.

Methane chimneys (areas of sea bubbling away with methane gas) have been spotted rising from the seabed. What’s causing the churning? Well, if correct, it’s bad, bad news for the planet. Global warming is causing the Arctic region to warm up leading to the ice retreating. The Arctic has experienced a 4C rise in average temperatures in the last few decades. This is causing the permafrost to melt and up until now the permafrost has been sealing the methane gas under the seabed.

The British scientists are not alone in observing the methane chimneys. A Russian research ship also detected bubbling methane breaking through the melting permafrost off the Siberian coast. Apparently, the British scientists spotted 250 methane plumes in a 30 square mile area off Svalbard, with deeper plumes at depths of about 1,200 metres at a second site near by.

Some scientists are suggesting that the methane chimneys have been evident for 15,000 years. If so, the question is whether it has exacerbated to the point where the methane gas emissions are contributing to climate change and potentially would cause higher temperatures.

This is a really serious situation because the total amount of methane locked up is calculated to be greater than the total amount of carbon contained in global coal reserves. And if it’s released….

Entry filed under: Climate Change, Environment. Tags: , , .

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