Last updated on November 27, 2020
“It’s gotten so out of whack that we are now looking at survival for our children, not survival of our grandchildren.”, Peter Carter, M.D., – reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and founder of the Climate Emergency Institute.
Dozens of scientists from Sweden, Russia, China, and seven other countries studied methane emissions from Siberia's shallow continental shelves. One methane “fountain” was so large that the scientists saw it with their own eyes. Russian scientists call this phenomenon a super seep.
Methane is bubbling into the ocean surface of the Laptev and Kara Seas. The powerful greenhouse gas is nine times the global average and is a potent greenhouse gas. Its impact on the climate is 84 times greater than CO2 over 20 years and 34 times over a century.
The Arctic has massive methane stores in the permanently frozen soil and the coastal waters off Siberia. The release of the gas will be devastating to the climate and our survival.
Scientists have shared the first results of a trip to the world’s largest deposit of subsea permafrost and shallow methane hydrates.
Fields of methane discharge continue to grow all along the East Siberian Arctic Ocean Shelf, with concentration of atmospheric methane above the fields reaching 16-32ppm (parts per million).
This is up to 15 times above the planetary average of 1.85ppm.
The preliminary results are from this year’s only international scientific expedition to the eastern Arctic.
A team of 69 scientists from ten countries documented bubble clouds rising from a depth of around 300 metres (985ft) along a 150km (93 mile) undersea slope in the Laptev Sea, and confirmed high methane concentrations by hundreds of onboard chemical analysis.
A second discovery is pockmarks and craters sunk deep in shelf sediments of both the Laptev and East Siberian seas, actively venting bubbles and strong methane signals.
‘All previously discovered fields of methane discharge showed an increase to various degrees, now we need to figure out exactly how much they grew,’ said the head of the expedition Professor Igor Semiletov.
‘One of the new discoveries was a field of sea bottom craters in the shallow part of the Laptev Sea, some of them 30 metres (98 ft) in diameter.
‘They look like holes in the permafrost and, as our studies showed, they were formed by massive methane discharge.
‘Also two more powerful seeps emitting methane through iceberg furrows were discovered in the East Siberian Sea.
If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released into the atmosphere, we're fucked. Jason Box, Glaciologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.
IFL adds a nuanced caveat to the Tomsk Polytechnic University research findings.
Of all the potential tipping points where a modest warming could trigger something far worse, the “Clathrate Gun”, where Arctic methane boils dramatically, is possibly the worst, and certainly the most famous. It is thought to have been the cause of the relatively sudden warming known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum million years ago. It may not quite be the boiling seas predicted (depending on translation) by the Book of Revelations or the Qur'an, but it could still be an apocalypse.
However, it is unclear how great the danger really is. Methane frozen in deep waters is usually consumed by microbes before it can reach the surface to do any harm. Currently, the Arctic Ocean accounts for less than one ten-thousandth of methane emissions, so even a hundred-fold increase would be barely noticeable. Land-based Arctic permafrost is currently a much bigger source.
Moreover, it is possible methane fountains have always been a feature of the Arctic Ocean, caused by local phenomena. Having studied the area so poorly until recently we lack a good baseline to know what is normal.
Science Bulletin writes that warming rivers in the Arctic are melting the ice by warming the air and the ocean.
The research found that much more river heat energy enters the atmosphere than melts ice or heats the ocean. Since air is mobile, this means river heat can affect areas of the Arctic far from river deltas.
The impacts were most pronounced in the Siberian Arctic, where several large rivers flow onto the relatively shallow shelf region extending nearly 1,000 miles offshore. Canada’s Mackenzie River is the only river large enough to contribute substantially to sea ice melt near Alaska, but the state’s smaller rivers are also a source of heat.
Polyakov expects that rising global air temperatures will continue to warm Arctic rivers in the future. As rivers heat up, more heat will flow into the Arctic Ocean, melting more sea ice and accelerating Arctic warming.
Rivers are just one of many heat sources now warming the Arctic Ocean. The entire Arctic system is in an extremely anomalous state as global air temperatures rise and warm Atlantic and Pacific water enters the region, decaying sea ice even in the middle of winter. All these components work together, causing positive feedback loops that speed up warming in the Arctic.
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