Siberian Methane Melt
Below the Arctic seabed massive stores of methane are destabilizing as punctures form in the permafrost deep beneath the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). The methane is stored as a gas hydrate, crystalline water structures resembling ice that act as cages around the methane. These hydrate reservoirs below the Shelf encompass more than three-quarter million square miles of sea floor. If the permafrost fails as an effective barrier, leaking even a fraction of this greenhouse gas into the atmosphere could trigger abrupt climate warming.
Normally, peaks in methane concentrations in the atmosphere are only temporary as methane oxidizes forming carbon dioxide. The shallow waters of the ESAS, however, do not provide enough time for this reaction to occur, leading more to escape into the atmosphere as it rises out of the seabed.Given the staggering amount of methane in the region, any sign of leakage could prove extremely volatile, as the Shelf already emits yearly as much methane as all the world’s oceans.
Further investigation will be needed to discern whether the venting methane, as researchers explain,“is a steadily ongoing phenomenon or signals a more massive methane release period.”
Image, "Winds from the North" on Flickr Courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.