Methane Burps and "Chimneys" From Quickly Warming Arctic

Photo Vinay Deep @ flickr.

Global warming is happening at an accelerated pace and may have reached its tipping point in the Arctic. That has some scientists worried that powerful emissions of methane from permafrost peatlands as well as from the warming Arctic ocean bottom are already upon us.

Methane bubbles and peat bog belches
Swedish researchers have been in Lappland last month drilling holes in peat bogs and at higher points on what are called "peat plateaus" - up to 700 meters above sea level - to test the permafrost's temperature at various depths. What surprised them was that even deep down the temperature was hovering near or around zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), which leads then to believe that the permafrost defrost is seriously underway. "We could see bubbles on the lakes [in the bogs] and a lot of that bubbling is methane," said researcher Britta Sannel. That's important for a couple of reasons. The first is that the warming of permafrost is faster than predicted, and the positive feedback loop - that's not at all positive! - could be in place.The second is that the subsequent global warming gas methane being belched from permafrost defrosting and burped up from the warming Arctic sea bottom are not included in official IPCC predictions, and researchers are discovering there's more GHGs stored in permafrost than we thought. So the picture of how much we must expect to be emitted and how much more we need to offset and reduce gets a little bit bleaker, and is moving so fast that scientists can barely keep up. While Sweden has only a small area of these permafrost peatlands, there are huge swaths in Russia and Canada, and their thawing and gas releases was hoped to be avoided.

Methane chimneys puffing off the Arctic ocean bottom
In an earlier research expedition this summer, the Russian-Swedish International Siberian Shelf Study went around actually hunting methane emissions - and they found them. Not only bubbles of methane rising off the sea bottom, but also methane "chimneys" - columns of potent methane gas that are strong enough that they don't break apart while journeying to the surface but rise straight up and burst into the air. Via (Swedish)

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