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Methane Plumes Oberseved Rising From Arctic Ocean Hydrates

Frozen Methane Bubbles rising to the surface in Alaska. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

-Stockhom University. Norway. 

Researchers at Stockhom University announced that just a week into the sampling program and SWERUS-C3 scientists have discovered vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor of the Laptev continental slope. These early glimpses of what may be in store for a warming Arctic Ocean could help scientists project the future releases of the strong greenhouse gas methane from the Arctic Ocean. 

This is disturbing news because The amount of methane released from microorganisms dwelling in lakes and freshwater beds will increase severalfold for each degree Celsius the Earth’s temperature rises, according to a new study from Nature.

While much attention is given to climate change-linked rises in carbon dioxide, methane is roughtly 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas, and as temperatures rise, methane output from freshwater sources – the primary methane emissions source – will will outpace carbon dioxide output.

Observing methane plumes rising from Laptev Sea Shelf” was somewhat of a surprise,” writes chief scientist Örjan Gustafsson, Stockholm University, in his latest blog entry. He speculates that the leaking methane from the seafloor of the continental slope may have its origins in collapsing “methane hydrates,” clusters of methane trapped in frozen water due to high pressure and low temperature.

The discovery was made while the icebreaker Oden crosscut the Laptev Sea along a depth gradient from 1000m to just 100m following the continental slope upward to reach the shallow waters of the outer Laptev Sea Shelf. By use of acoustic techniques and geochemical analyses of water samples, the scientists found vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor at depths between 500 m and 150 m. 

“While there has been much speculation about the vulnerability of regular marine hydrates along the continental slopes of the Arctic rim, very few actual observations of methane releases due to collapsing marine hydrates on the Arctic slope have been made,” writes Örjan Gustafsson.

Multicorer hits bottom bubbles. Photo: Pete Hill
Multicorer hits bottom bubbles. Photo: Pete Hill

Örjan Gustafsson thinks that the mechanism behind the presence of methane seeps at these depths may have something to do with the ”tongue” of relatively warm Atlantic water, presumably intruding across the Arctic Ocean at 200-600 m depths.” Some evidence have shown that this water mass has recently become warmer. As this warm Atlantic water, the last remnants of the Gulf Stream, propagates eastward along the upper slope of the East Siberian margin, it may lead to destabilization of methane hydrates on the upper portion of the slope. This may be what we are now seeing for the first time,” writes Örjan Gustafsson.

 

 

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