Shock as retreat of Arctic sea ice releases deadly greenhouse gas

Speed and drift of melting Arctic sea ice 

Russian research team astonished after finding 'fountains' of methane bubbling to surface (see also updates below)

By projectearth - 12. December 2011

Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent (see below), Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said. "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them."

Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.

Dr Semiletov's team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were about eight million tonnes a year, but the latest expedition suggests this is a significant underestimate of the phenomenon.

In late summer, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of about 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast. Scientists deployed four highly sensitive instruments, both seismic and acoustic, to monitor the "fountains" or plumes of methane bubbles rising to the sea surface from beneath the seabed.

"In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed," Dr Semiletov said. "We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal."

(*) Dr Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Sea Ice, Methane & Climate Update (Oct. 20, 2019)

Margo gives a comprehensive update on the state of the Arctic Sea Ice and shows the Antarctic Sea Ice, goes over recent methane data from CAMS (Fri., 10/18/19) and NOAA (Sat., 10/19/19), shows ozone, sulfur dioxide, earthquakes and Climate Reanalyzer. Margo's Website: https://glc.margoshealingcorner.com  Support / Contribute: https://paypal.me/margoshealingcorner

Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats

By Steve Connor @SteveAConnor 

Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane - a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide - have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the 8th joint US-Russia cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said.

"I was most impressed by the sheer scale and the high density of the plumes.  Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them," he said.

Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tons of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire Arctic region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.

Dr Semiletov's team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were in the region of 8 million tons a year but the latest expedition suggests this is a significant underestimate of the true scale of the phenomenon.

In late summer, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of about 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast, in cooperating with the University of Georgia Athens. Scientists deployed four highly sensitive instruments, both seismic and acoustic, to monitor the "fountains" or plumes of methane bubbles rising to the sea surface from beneath the seabed.

"In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed," Dr Semiletov said.

"We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale - I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere - the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal," he said.

Dr Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. He is now preparing the study for publication in a scientific journal.

The total amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic is calculated to be greater than the overall quantity of carbon locked up in global coal reserves so there is intense interest in the stability of these deposits as the polar region warms at a faster rate than other places on earth.

Natalia Shakhova, a colleague at the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said that the Arctic is becoming a major source of atmospheric methane and the concentrations of the powerful greenhouse gas have risen dramatically since pre-industrial times, largely due to agriculture.

However, with the melting of Arctic sea ice and permafrost, the huge stores of methane that have been locked away underground for many thousands of years might be released over a relatively short period of time, Dr Shakhova said.

"I am concerned about this process, I am really concerned. But no-one can tell the timescale of catastrophic releases. There is a probability of future massive releases might occur within the decadal scale, but to be more accurate about how high that probability is, we just don't know," Dr Shakova said.

"Methane released from the Arctic shelf deposits contributes to global increase and the best evidence for that is the higher concentration of atmospheric methane above the Arctic Ocean," she said.

"The concentration of atmospheric methane increased unto three times in the past two centuries from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7ppm, and in the Arctic to 1.9ppm. That's a huge increase, between two and three times, and this has never happened in the history of the planet," she added.

Each methane molecule is about 70 times more potent in terms of trapping heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide. However, because methane it broken down more rapidly in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, scientist calculate that methane is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a hundred-year cycle.

Arctic Methane: Why The Sea Ice Matters

Film featuring world renowned experts: Dr James Hansen, Dr Natalia Shakhova, Dr Peter Wadhams, David Wasdell (Apollo-Gaia Project). NASA Animation showing loss of Arctic sea ice: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio The Blue Marble data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC).

 

Melting Arctic sea ice accelerates methane emissions

By Lund University - 17. September 2015

Methane emissions from Arctic tundra increase when sea ice melts, according to a new study from Lund University in Sweden. This connection has been suspected before, but has lacked strong evidence until now.

Photo: Frans-Jan Parmentier

Melting permafrost sets free vast quantities of methane - Photo: Frans-Jan Parmentier

“Changes in the Arctic Ocean can affect ecosystems located far away on land, ” says Dr. Frans-Jan Parmentier, the study’s lead author and researcher at the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University.

Bright sea ice reflects most sunlight, while open water absorbs most sunlight. Less sea ice, therefore, leads to more absorbed heat, and higher temperatures throughout the North Pole region. This stimulates the production of methane by microorganisms in permafrost soils, which also drives the change towards a warmer climate.

“While numerous studies have shown the effects of sea ice loss on the ocean, there are only a few that show how this oceanic change affects ecosystems on the surrounding land. Our research shows that to understand the impact of climate change on the Arctic, the ocean and land cannot be viewed separately“, Frans-Jan Parmentier explains.

Dr. Parmentier, together with researchers from the United States and the Netherlands, explored the connection between methane emissions and loss of sea ice by using advanced computer models. Models can simulate how methane emissions respond to the effects of sea ice decline, such as higher temperatures and altered rainfall.

“Sea ice decline is one of the most visible consequences of climate change, and has a tremendous impact on the Arctic climate. Since the 1990’s, the Arctic has been losing sea ice at a tremendous rate – about 14 percent per decade. The expectation is that with further sea ice decline, temperatures in the Arctic will continue to rise, and so will methane emissions from northern wetlands”, says Frans-Jan Parmentier.

The next step is to assess the extent of sea ice’s influence on methane emissions by measurements in the field. The results of this research could improve predictions of how climate change affects our planet.

Publication: Rising methane emissions from northern wetlands associated with sea ice decline

Contact: 
Frans-Jan Parmentier, Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University

+47 405 39 339
Website: https://web.nateko.lu.se/Personal/Frans-Jan.Parmentier/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Frans_Jan/

 

RightClick/View to enlarge - Already by 2009 the anthropognic methane output from fossil fuels, ruminants, waste/landfills and rice production exceeded the natural absorbition capacity by far. With the melting Arctic ice-shild and permafrost massive releases will add to the imbalance with possibly catastophic consequences.

 

Methane, Faults and Sea Ice

By  - 05. NOVEMBER 2013

Shield breaking down

Until now, Arctic sea ice has been acting as a shield, in a number of ways, including:

  • preventing sunlight from warming up water underneath the sea ice 
  • facilitating currents that currently cool the bottom of the sea
  • preventing much methane from entering the atmosphere; as discussed in an earlier post, the sea ice collects and holds the methane in places close enough to the surface for the methane to be consumed through photochemical and biochemical oxidation. 

However, as the sea ice declines, this shield is breaking down. As a result:

  • more sunlight is reaching the water, contributing to warming of water in the Arctic Ocean
  • sea ice decline comes with the danger of weakened currents that cool the seabed
  • more methane is able to penetrate the cracks and openings in the ever-thinner ice. 

Warm Water traveling along Gulf Stream

At the same time, global warming is causing more extreme weather events to occur, such as the record warmth observed in July 2013 in part of the northeastern Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North America. As discussed in a recent post, this warm water has meanwhile traveled along the Gulf Stream and reached the Arctic Ocean.

Methane venting from Seabed

As a result, warmer water is now destabilizing sediments under the seabed that hold huge amounts of methane in the form of free gas and hydrates. Methane is now venting from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean, driven by sea ice decline and "by Gulf Stream heating, earthquakes and deep pyroclastic eruptions", as Malcolm Light explains in a recent comment and as described in an earlier post.

The image below shows the result: Massive amounts of methane venting from the seabed, penetrating the sea ice, and entering the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean. 

 

Methane, Faults and Sea Ice

The animation below illustrates links between: 

  • The fault line that crosses the Arctic Ocean and forms the boundery between two tectonic plates (i.e. the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate)
  • Arctic sea ice, which until now has acted as a shield
  • The prominence of high methane readings over the Arctic Ocean 

 

[ this animation is a 1.67 MB file that may take some time to fully load ]

 

Above animation illustrates high methane readings (1950 ppb and higher, in yellow) prominently showing up within the bounderies of the sea ice, and especially along the Gakkel Ridge and Laptev Sea Rift parts of the fault line that crosses the Arctic Ocean.

Below a combination of three images by Dr. Leonid Yurganov confirming that methane levels have intensified during October 2013, especially over the Laptev Sea.

 

[ click on image to enlarge ]

Below, a Naval Research Laboratory animation showing ice thickness over 30 days.

 


Arctic Cyclone Alert

As above Naval Research Laboratory animation shows, sea ice is less than one meter thick in areas where increases have occurred over the past 30 days. At the same time, a lot of the two-meters thick ice is moving out of the Arctic Ocean along the north coast of Greenland, and this process could increase if the development of a cyclone over the Arctic Ocean persists, as forecast on the Naval Research Laboratory image below.
 


Paul Beckwith warns: "The Arctic sea ice should be rapidly gaining volume this time of year. The cyclone can prevent this. This cyclone can rapidly move the thickest ridged ice out of the basin via the Fram Strait counteracting the volume increase of freezing thinner ice."

Albert Kallio adds: "Arctic Ocean ice cover is also in flux and pulvirisation since summer has lowered viscosity of sea ice to the point where it behaves almost like liquid, with loads and loads of thick but broken ice thrusted into the Atlantic Ocean where it rapidly melts away in warm waters."

Thick ice needed for sea ice to act as shield

Below is an animation, from an earlier post, showing an image by Leonid Yurganov with methane readings for end January 2013 against a map showing sea ice concentrations for January 2013, from the National Snow and Ice data Center (NSIDC). The animation shows that high methane readings are prominent over water without sea ice or only thin sea ice.

High levels of methane over water without sea ice end January 2013   [ 1.84 MB file ]

The above animation shows that, back in January 2013, when the sea ice was much thicker. Comparison with the end January 2013 Naval Research Laboratory image below indicates that sea ice must be at least 1m thick to be able to act as a shield.
 


Related


- The unfolding Methane Catastrophe
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/10/unfolding-methane-catastrophe.html

- Locating sources of the world's highest methane levels

https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/11/locating-sources-of-worlds-highest-methane-levels.html

- Causes of high methane levels over Arctic Ocean

https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/10/causes-of-high-methane-levels-over-arctic-ocean.html

- Arctic sea ice loss is effectively doubling mankind's contribution to global warming

https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2012/09/arctic-sea-ice-loss-is-effectively-doubling-mankinds-contribution-to-global-warming.html

- Four Hiroshima bombs a second: how we imagine climate change

https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2012/09/accelerated-warming-in-the-arctic.html

- Earthquake hits waters off Japan
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/10/earthquake-hits-waters-off-japan.html

- Further feedbacks of sea ice decline in the Arctic

https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/08/four-hiroshima-bombs-second-how-we-imagine-climate-change.html