Arctic methane release

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PMMA chambers used to measure methane and CO2 emissions in Storflaket peat bog near Abisko, northern Sweden.
Time series of atmospheric methane concentration (1984-2005)

Arctic methane release is the release of methane from seas and soils in permafrost regions of the Arctic. While a long-term natural process, it may be exacerbated by global warming. This results in a positive feedback effect, as methane is itself a powerful greenhouse gas. The feedback of the undisturbed process is comparably weak, however, because the local release leads to a warming spread over the whole globe.

The Arctic region is one of the many natural sources of the greenhouse gas methane.[1] Global warming accelerates its release, due to both release of methane from existing stores, and from methanogenesis in rotting biomass.[2] Large quantities of methane are stored in the Arctic in natural gas deposits, permafrost, and as submarine clathrates. Permafrost and clathrates degrade on warming, thus large releases of methane from these sources may arise as a result of global warming.[3][4] Other sources of methane include submarine taliks, river transport, ice complex retreat, submarine permafrost and decaying gas hydrate deposits.[5]

During interglacials, average atmospheric methane concentrations are nearly twice the lowest values in the depths of glacial. Concentrations in the Arctic atmosphere are higher by 8–10% than that in the Antarctic atmosphere. During cold glacier epochs, this gradient decreases to practically insignificant levels.[6] Land ecosystems are considered the main sources of this asymmetry, although it has been suggested that "the role of the Arctic Ocean is significantly underestimated."[7] Soil temperature and moisture levels have been found to be significant variables in soil methane fluxes in tundra environments.[8][9]

According to an article in the magazine Science, while methane release is indeed likely to amplify global warming to an unknown level, fears that it could lead to catastrophe are possibly overblown.[10]

Contribution to climate change[edit]

The release of methane from the Arctic is in itself a contributor to global warming as a result of polar amplification. Recent observations in the Siberian arctic show increased rates of methane release from the Arctic seabed.[4] Land-based permafrost, also in the Siberian arctic, was also recently observed to be releasing large amounts of methane, estimated at 3.8 million tons per year – significantly above previous estimates.[11]

In the plot showing the global atmospheric methane concentration (the significant measure from the viewpoint of global warming and radiative forcing), however, the rate of the increase in atmospheric methane has been slowing until 2004, indicating that the contribution from Arctic release is currently not the dominant factor in the global picture.

Current methane release has previously been estimated at 0.5 Mt per year.[12] Shakhova et al. (2008) estimate that not less than 1,400 Gt of Carbon is presently locked up as methane and methane hydrates under the Arctic submarine permafrost, and 5-10% of that area is subject to puncturing by open taliks. They conclude that "release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage [is] highly possible for abrupt release at any time". That would increase the methane content of the planet's atmosphere by a factor of twelve.[13]

In 2008 the United States Department of Energy National Laboratory system[14] identified potential clathrate destabilization in the Arctic as one of the most serious scenarios for abrupt climate change, which have been singled out for priority research. The U.S. Climate Change Science Program released a report in late December 2008 estimating the gravity of the risk of clathrate destabilization, alongside three other credible abrupt climate change scenarios.[15]

Loss of permafrost[edit]

Main article: Permafrost

Sea ice loss is correlated with warming of Northern latitudes. This has melting effects on permafrost, both in the sea,[16] and on land.[17] Lawrence et al. suggest that current rapid melting of the sea ice may induce a rapid melting of arctic permafrost.[17][18] This has consequential effects on methane release,[3] and wildlife.[17] Some studies imply a direct link, as they predict cold air passing over ice is replaced by warm air passing over the sea. This warm air carries heat to the permafrost around the Arctic, and melts it.[17] This permafrost then releases huge quantities of methane.[19] Methane release can be gaseous, but is also transported in solution by rivers.[5] NewScientist states that "Since existing models do not include feedback effects such as the heat generated by decomposition, the permafrost could melt far faster than generally thought."[20]

There is another possible mechanism for rapid methane release. As the Arctic ocean becomes more and more ice free, the ocean absorbs more of the incident energy from the sun. The Arctic ocean becomes warmer than the former ice cover and much more water vapour enters the air. At times when the adjacent land is colder than the sea, this causes rising air above the sea and an off-shore wind as air over the land comes in to replace the rising air over the sea. As the air rises, the dew point is reached and clouds form, releasing latent heat and further reinforcing the buoyancy of the air over the ocean. All this results in air being drawn from the south across the tundra rather than the present situation of cold air flowing toward the south from the cold sinking air over the Arctic ocean. The extra heat being drawn from the south further accelerates the warming of the permafrost and the Arctic ocean with increased release of methane.[citation needed]

A sinkhole discovered in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, Russia in July 2014 is believed by Russian researchers to have been caused by methane released due to permafrost thawing. Near the bottom of the sinkhole, air contained unusually high concentrations of methane, according to tests conducted by the researchers.[21]

Clathrate breakdown[edit]

Extinction intensity.svg Cambrian Ordovician Silurian Devonian Carboniferous Permian Triassic Jurassic Cretaceous Paleogene Neogene
Marine extinction intensity during the Phanerozoic eon
%
Millions of years ago
Extinction intensity.svg Cambrian Ordovician Silurian Devonian Carboniferous Permian Triassic Jurassic Cretaceous Paleogene Neogene
The Permian–Triassic extinction event (the Great Dying) may have been caused by release of methane from clathrates. An estimated 52% of marine genus went extinct, representing 96% of all marine species.

Sea ice, and the cold conditions it sustains, serves to stabilise methane deposits on and near the shoreline,[22] preventing the clathrate breaking down and outgassing methane into the atmosphere, causing further warming. Melting of this ice may release large quantities of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, causing further warming in a strong positive feedback cycle.[23]

Even with existing levels of warming and melting of the Arctic region, submarine methane releases linked to clathrate breakdown have been discovered,[24] and demonstrated to be leaking into the atmosphere.[5][25][26][27] A 2011 Russian survey off the East Siberian coast found plumes wider than one kilometer releasing methane directly into the atmosphere.[24]

According to monitoring carried out in 2003/2004 by Shakhova et al., the surface layer of shelf water in the East Siberian Sea and Laptev Sea was supersaturated up to 2500% relative to then present average atmospheric methane content of 1.85 ppm. Anomalously high concentrations (up to 154 nM or 4400% supersaturation) of dissolved methane in the bottom layer of shelf water suggest that the bottom layer is somehow affected by near-bottom sources. Considering the possible formation mechanisms of such plumes, their studies indicated thermoabrasion and the effects of shallow gas or gas hydrates release.[4]

Research in 2008 in the Siberian Arctic has shown clathrate-derived methane being released through perforations in the seabed permafrost.[28]

The climatic effects of a potential release of methane from ocean clathrates may be significant on timescales of 1–100 thousand years.[29]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bloom, A. A.; Palmer, P. I.; Fraser, A.; Reay, D. S.; Frankenberg, C. (2010). "Large-Scale Controls of Methanogenesis Inferred from Methane and Gravity Spaceborne Data". Science 327 (5963): 322–325. Bibcode:2010Sci...327..322B. doi:10.1126/science.1175176. PMID 20075250.  edit
  2. ^ Walter, K. M.; Chanton, J. P.; Chapin, F. S.; Schuur, E. A. G.; Zimov, S. A. (2008). "Methane production and bubble emissions from arctic lakes: Isotopic implications for source pathways and ages". Journal of Geophysical Research 113: G00A08. Bibcode:2008JGRG..11300A08W. doi:10.1029/2007JG000569.  edit
  3. ^ a b Zimov, Sa; Schuur, Ea; Chapin, Fs, 3Rd (Jun 2006). "Climate change. Permafrost and the global carbon budget.". Science 312 (5780): 1612–3. doi:10.1126/science.1128908. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 16778046. 
  4. ^ a b c Shakhova, Natalia (2005). "The distribution of methane on the Siberian Arctic shelves: Implications for the marine methane cycle". Geophysical Research Letters 32 (9): L09601. Bibcode:2005GeoRL..3209601S. doi:10.1029/2005GL022751. 
  5. ^ a b c Shakhova, Natalia; Semiletov, Igor (2007). "Methane release and coastal environment in the East Siberian Arctic shelf". Journal of Marine Systems 66 (1–4): 227–243. Bibcode:2007JMS....66..227S. doi:10.1016/j.jmarsys.2006.06.006. 
  6. ^ Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2001)
  7. ^ N. E. Shakhova, I. P. Semiletov, A. N. Salyuk, N. N. Bel’cheva, and D. A. Kosmach, (2007). "Methane Anomalies in the Near-Water Atmospheric Layer above the Shelf of East Siberian Arctic Shelf". Doklady Earth Sciences 415 (5): 764–768. Bibcode:2007DokES.415..764S. doi:10.1134/S1028334X07050236. 
  8. ^ Torn, M.; Chapiniii, F. (1993). "Environmental and biotic controls over methane flux from Arctic tundra". Chemosphere 26: 357. doi:10.1016/0045-6535(93)90431-4.  edit
  9. ^ Whalen, S. C.; Reeburgh, W. S. (1990). "Consumption of atmospheric methane by tundra soils". Nature 346 (6280): 160. Bibcode:1990Natur.346..160W. doi:10.1038/346160a0.  edit
  10. ^ Kerr, R. A. (2010). "'Arctic Armageddon' Needs More Science, Less Hype". Science 329 (5992): 620–621. doi:10.1126/science.329.5992.620. PMID 20688993.  edit: Transcript of related podcast "Science Podcast". Science 329 (5992): 697–691. 2010. doi:10.1126/science.329.5992.697-b.  edit
  11. ^ Walter, Km; Zimov, Sa; Chanton, Jp; Verbyla, D; Chapin, Fs, 3Rd (Sep 2006). "Methane bubbling from Siberian thaw lakes as a positive feedback to climate warming". Nature 443 (7107): 71–5. Bibcode:2006Natur.443...71W. doi:10.1038/nature05040. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 16957728. 
  12. ^ Shakhova N., Semiletov I., Salyuk A., Kosmach D., Bel'cheva N. (2007). "Methane release on the Arctic East Siberian shelf". Geophysical Research Abstracts 9: 01071. 
  13. ^ N. Shakhova, I. Semiletov, A. Salyuk, D. Kosmach (2008), Anomalies of methane in the atmosphere over the East Siberian shelf: Is there any sign of methane leakage from shallow shelf hydrates?, EGU General Assembly 2008, Geophysical Research Abstracts, 10, EGU2008-A-01526
  14. ^ IMPACTS: On the Threshold of Abrupt Climate Changes, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory News Center, 17 September 2008
  15. ^ CCSP, 2008: Abrupt Climate Change. A report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (Clark, P.U., A.J. Weaver (coordinating lead authors), E. Brook, E.R. Cook, T.L. Delworth, and K. Steffen (chapter lead authors)). U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA, 459 pp.
  16. ^ Susan Q. Stranahan (30 Oct 2008). "Melting Arctic Ocean Raises Threat of 'Methane Time Bomb'". Yale Environment 360. Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  17. ^ a b c d "Permafrost Threatened by Rapid Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice, NCAR Study Finds". University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. 2008-06-10. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  18. ^ Lawrence, David M.; Slater, Andrew G.; Tomas, Robert A.; Holland, Marika M.; Deser, Clara (2008). "Accelerated Arctic land warming and permafrost degradation during rapid sea ice loss". Geophysical Research Letters 35 (11): L11506. Bibcode:2008GeoRL..3511506L. doi:10.1029/2008GL033985. 
  19. ^ Mason Inman (19 December 2008). "Methane Bubbling Up From Undersea Permafrost?". National Geographic News. Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  20. ^ Pearce, Fred (28 March 09). "arctic-meltdown-is-a-threat-to-humanity". newscientist. Reed Business Information. Archived from the original on 29 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  21. ^ http://www.nature.com/news/mysterious-siberian-crater-attributed-to-methane-1.15649
  22. ^ Steve Connor (23 September 2008). "Exclusive: The methane time bomb". The Independent. Archived from the original on 3 April 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  23. ^ Volker Mrasek (17 April 2008). "A Storehouse of Greenhouse Gases Is Opening in Siberia". Spiegel Online. Archived from the original on 1 May 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  24. ^ a b Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats Tuesday 13 December 2011 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/vast-methane-plumes-seen-in-arctic-ocean-as-sea-ice-retreats-6276278.html
  25. ^ http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17625-as-arctic-ocean-warms-megatonnes-of-methane-bubble-up.html
  26. ^ Is Global Warming Happening Faster Than Expected? Loss of ice, melting of permafrost and other climate effects are occurring at an alarming pace.
  27. ^ Earth May Be Warming Even Faster Than Expected. Three feedback loops are amplifying how rapidly the planet is heating up.
  28. ^ Paull, Charles K.; Ussler, William; Dallimore, Scott R.; Blasco, Steve M.; Lorenson, Thomas D.; Melling, Humfrey; Medioli, Barbara E.; Nixon, F. Mark; McLaughlin, Fiona A. (2007). "Origin of pingo-like features on the Beaufort Sea shelf and their possible relationship to decomposing methane gas hydrates". Geophysical Research Letters 34 (1): L01603. Bibcode:2007GeoRL..3401603P. doi:10.1029/2006GL027977. 
  29. ^ Archer, David; Buffett, Bruce (2005). "Time-dependent response of the global ocean clathrate reservoir to climatic and anthropogenic forcing". Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems – G3 6 (3): 1–13. Bibcode:2005GGG.....603002A. doi:10.1029/2004GC000854. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 

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