Bubbles in the Sea, Craters in Earth Spark New Methane Worries

The headline in Nature World News on Tuesday was not subtle.

‘We’re F’d,’ it stated caustically.

The subject? Methane plumes rising from the seabed witnessed by ocean researchers  in the Arctic in recent weeks.

Seen by a team of international scientists led by Professor Örjan Gustafsson from Stockholm University travelling in the Eastern Siberian Arctic Ocean, the release of methane has long been feared by climatologists who suggest that a warming planet could trigger a mass melting of what are called methane hydrates—a frozen form of potent greenhouse gas methane trapped in permafrost or beneath the ocean floor.

As the article in the NWN notes, the observations by Gustafsson’s team—measured by sophisticated sensor equipment on their ship—were surprising “not because the plumes were unexpected, but because of their concentration.”

Writing on his own blog, Gustaffson writes that he and his fellow researchers are assessing “these methane releases in greater detail than ever before to substantially improve our collective understanding of the methane sources and the functioning of the system. This is information that is crucial if we are to be able to provide scientific estimations of how these methane releases may develop in the future.”

Referred to as a “ticking time bomb” by some who study the subject, methane has a much more powerful global warming effect than carbon and the evidence continues to mount that areas which hold huge deposits of the compound are becoming increasingly unstable.

Though innocuous-looking, this short video taken by the crew shows methane rising in the ocean:

The recent discovery of strange craters in northern Russia has also entered the scientific debate about the dangers of methane, with scientists suggesting that melting permafrost and a enormous release of the gas could be the culprit.

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