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Methane Spotted Bubbling Up From The Arctic Permafrost

Methane Spotted Bubbling Up From The Arctic Permafrost

It takes at least 10 minutes for the ice cream cone to melt and cascade down the elbow. But, what if that time is cut down to something less than 5 minutes? One would have to race their way to the end of the cup while closing the freezer door with the other hand. This is one of the remote implications of global warming. It is not a big deal for those with good gums and those who are indifferent enough to distinguish scoop from soup.

The International Energy Agency warned that the world is on course for a rise of 3.6 to 5.3 degrees Celsius. So, those who like to sit and savour, who also happen to form the majority of the population should probably know about the effects of methane leakage from permafrost.

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Where Is This  Methane Coming From

Temporarily trapped in ice, bubbles of methane seeping up from melting permafrost at the base of an Arctic lake Credit: Miriam Jones U.S. Geological Survey


The frozen soil is usually saturated with microbes which lay dormant and are almost invulnerable to the extremities of polar conditions. But, when the temperatures rise for whatever reason; anthropogenic or not, the ice melts and exposes the soil to sunlight. This produces carbon, which those microbes love to devour.

The terrestrial carbon cycle with the major processes mediated by soil microorganisms via Prosser

The microbes then decompose this freshly consumed carbon into methane and release into the atmosphere which then accelerates the global warming; feasting on our ruins literally.

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Methane Detection From Space

A team led by Melanie Engram of the University of Alaska Fairbanks have used the radar measurement data collected by Japan’s Ibuki satellite. This satellite was able to distinguish the surface roughness in the ice divots caused by rising methane bubbles.

The surveyors combine aerial photos from the satellite to check for the change in shapes of lakes with respect to time. And, how this change is associated with methane seeps. The study is conducted in the fall when the lakes freeze to spot the trapped methane bubbles.

The remote sensing scientists observed that the low-oxygen swamps vigorously spewed methane allowing it to seep through the Arctic lakes.

The study was conducted on 48 lakes across Alaska and the results have been extrapolated to estimate the emissions of 5,000 lakes.

Though these findings are not immune to exaggerations owing to the sample size the results seem to resonate with those of NASA’s.

Methane bubbles pop on the surface of a lake near Fairbanks, Alaska. Credit: NASA/Kate Ramsaye

Why Is This Important

Methane is found naturally as methane hydrate. When the temperatures rise, the hydrates are broken down and methane gets dissolves into the seawater. When this methane escapes into the atmosphere, it results in reduced solar reflection from the ice caps and ends up warming up the atmosphere.

What is alarming about Methane, is its ability to hit with little notice and high potency compared to carbon dioxide.

Researchers claim that methane emissions could rise significantly as temperature soar. The predictive models that have been deployed were designed assuming moderate global warming and the results still show that the methane bubbling in the Arctic lakes would triple.

This methane which is released as a result of rising temperatures, can, in turn, accelerate global warming as well. So, this is a double-edged sword built and bred for delivering a catastrophic blow.

The scientists have also modelled economic aftermath to create more awareness, just in case. The estimates show that a decade-long atmospheric exposure to methane emissions will lead to an increase in ocean acidification, floods and poorer health conditions and cost $60 trillion to the global economy.


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