Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?
Earth Science

Massive Methane Release In the Arctic Region 264

Taco Cowboy writes "Arctic methane release is a well recorded phenomenon. Methane stored in both permafrost (which is melting) and methane hydrates (methane trapped in marine reservoirs) are vulnerable to being released into the atmosphere as the planet warms. However, researchers who are trying to map atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations on a global basis have discovered that the amount of methane emissions in the Arctic region do not total up. Further research revealed that significant amounts of methane releases came from the Arctic ocean (abstract) — as much as 2 milligrams of the gas is released per square meter of ocean, each day — presumably by marine bacteria surviving in low-nutrient environments."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Massive Methane Release In the Arctic Region

Comments Filter:
  • Algae farts!
  • I bet a good amount is trapped in all that Arctic Ice. Human's also contribute a large part with Live Stocks, and Land Fills
  • Ocean gun? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by damburger ( 981828 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:15PM (#39786085)

    People have been concerned about the possibility of a Clathrate gun for a while. Is this another potentially lethal feedback loop?

    And if it fires, or has already fired, will we notice immediately?

    • I wonder about that, too, but it looking at this [], it seems that watching ocean temperatures might help clear things up, despite of the underlying mechanisms seeming way too complicated for even advanced science and models to predict / assess.

      Ninety-three percent of the heat trapped by increasing greenhouse gases goes into warming the ocean, not the atmosphere. So taking the ocean's temperature is the most comprehensive way to monitor global warming.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by cpu6502 ( 1960974 )

      >>>will we notice immediately?

      It will be just like that movie Day After Tomorrow, where blizzard hurricanes suck the cold air out of the stratosphere and freeze people in mere seconds.

      kidding..... The methane will get eaten by bacteria and then it will no longer be an issue.

      I don't know what to believe any more. First I hear the ice poles are shrinking, and now I hear the icecaps are actually expanding in range. Global Warming should be renamed Global WTF.

      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        Instead of taking Fox News or some other biased opinion as fact, simply search for and find results for yourself. Honestly, it's not that difficult since there are countless sources of data related to Global Warming.

        It is worth pointing out that there are very sick people in the world that churn out papers claiming that Science is false. Read the science, not papers declaring Science to be wrong.

        Last point: Even that same sick set of people, that want money more than anything else (yes, even a home for t

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        I don't know where you've read that the icecaps are expanding, but wherever it is, stop reading it. It's only contributing to your ignorance.

        Perhaps what you're referring to is the high altitude glaciers growing? And you're confusing it with the ice caps?

        • No, look at my post above. The icecaps are expanding in the summer, when they usually don't - but the ice is thin and is likely to melt faster. Further, the expansion may be due to local weather changes and it's certainly not evidence that we're running towards a snowball earth anytime soon.

          It's just a quote of a very complex system taken out of context by very simple people.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        Its' because if your news sources, and you unexplainable thinking that a single study will undo mountains of other evidence.

      • by Guppy ( 12314 )

        I don't know what to believe any more. First I hear the ice poles are shrinking, and now I hear the icecaps are actually expanding in range.

        Entirely possible. Imagine an Antarctic locality where temperature is -30C, precipitation is 6" per year -- and then changes to -25C, with precipitation 6.5" per year. Net effect, accumulation of mass; what becomes important is when and where this effect occurs.

    • I do not know.
      Neither I think [] does anyone else.
      Maybe we should find out.

  • by vlm ( 69642 )

    How much methane can you get by rotting stuff once it warms up enough to rot? Or is that the simple words version of "stored in ... permafrost"

    • Re:rot (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:26PM (#39786277)
      The rotting has long since happened. The most likely source are methane clathrates sequestered for ages and now getting destabilized.
      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        Now if only it was strontium clathrates [] I could go trigger happy with my sieged dread...
  • Too much hummus.


  • Everything, -body farts, including good ole' Mother Earth. pffffft, now another methane hydrate crystal. Sheep, swamps, anaerobic groundwaters, anaerobic seawaters....methane is a child of Nature. Get over it.
  • Methane is bad stuff (Score:4, Informative)

    by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:27PM (#39786297)

    20 times better at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Warmer planet = more melting permafrost = more methane release = warmer planet. []

    • The fine summary suggested this is marine bacteria farts rather than stored methane from clathrates being released.

      I would be a lot more worried if it were clathrates.

  • ... that I think naturally come up with stories like this. Despite my science background from college (marine bio, actually, but I never use it), I find it hard to answer questions that true science novices might have such as:

    (o) Why is methane bad? It's one of the gases that get trapped in the atmosphere and prevent light from escaping, which warms the planet. Um... I think.

    (o) If it floats ups into the upper atmosphere, doesn't it just float into space? Uh.... no. Gravity.... I think.

    (o) So those trap

    • by TheSeventh ( 824276 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:44PM (#39786571)

      (o) So those trapped gases must have been in the air at some point, millions of years ago, and then planet did just fine. So what's there to worry about? Uh.....

      Yeah, the planet did fine, but it didn't support human life at the time. So, if human life is something you would like supported, then maybe there is a problem.

    • by Caratted ( 806506 ) * on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:49PM (#39786651)
      Millions of years ago, the climate (read: atmosphere) would've killed large mammals reliant on an oxygen rich environment (which is what is happening now, slowly but surely). The problem isn't that life would not be able to "get by just fine." It's that if the geology of Earth shifts back towards a carbon-rich environment, it won't be conducive to living comfortably, as a human. This is my understanding, anyway.

      The argument over whether or not it is a natural occurance is a big one (and worth having, IMO), but global warming nay-sayers choose to be ignorant of the fact that the "natural" environment of yester-millenia would literally kill them in a few short, labored gasps.
      • by na1led ( 1030470 )
        They didn't have millions of roads and buildings - Millions of years ago. Even if it was warmer back then, at least you had some good shade. I don't think all the tar roads, and black roof tops are going to do well with 140F temperatures.
        • Again, that's not really the problem. It's not about whether or not we are the causation. The problem is that if the atmosphere shifts back towards the state it was in pre-ice age, we are going to be unable to breathe as we know it. The breathing masks you see in so much SF, that you can only do without for so long? They're based in some reality.
    • If you're a marine bio major you should know 1 and 3. Especially 3.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke ( 6130 )

      (o) So those trapped gases must have been in the air at some point, millions of years ago, and then planet did just fine. So what's there to worry about? Uh.....

      Nothing if you're a Gaea-worshiping hippie. Mother Earth will be just fine.

      Most of us have concerns a lot more specific than just "the planet" doing fine.

    • by thomst ( 1640045 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @05:53PM (#39788225) Homepage

      gregmark mused:

      (o) So those trapped gases must have been in the air at some point, millions of years ago, and then planet did just fine. So what's there to worry about? Uh.....

      The carbon component of "those trapped gases" (i.e. - methane) may well have been "in the air" at some point in the past - but likely not as part of a methane molecule. Methane is a gas mainly produced by the decomposition of organic material. When the last ice age descended (most likely because of a meteorite or cometary impact event), it swiftly buried boreal forests in ice, and Arctic temperatures have kept the ground that they're now buried under frozen solid (which is why it's called "permafrost"). As the temperature warms, and that permafrost thaws, the decay process that the ice suspended will restart, and cause the dead and buried plant life to rot, producing very large quantities of methane gas from the carbon that used to be part of that plant life.

      As for how methane clathrates (the other very large source of methane gas releases) are formed, I have yet to see a convincing explanation of the mechanism. That notwithstanding, the fact that they DO exist is indisputable - and, when deepwater temperatures rise far enough, they definitely will melt, releasing their cargo of methane into the atmosphere (the so-called "methane clathrate gun" effect) more-or-less all at once.

      The current consensus is that it was the global release of large volumes of methane in the transition from the Permian to the Triassic Periods that caused the extremely large (20+ degrees Fahrenheit) increase in global temperatures that resulted in what is known as the Permian Extinction - an event that resulted in the extinction of more than 90% of all then-extant species on Earth. What is particularly scary about that event - the worst mass extinction since the Oxygen Catastrophe - is that the release of all that methane seems to have been initiated by a sharp increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. In the Permian, that surge of CO2 was caused by a huge, long-lasting basalt flow event (a kind of large-scale volcanic eruption) called the Siberian Traps.

      Today, however, the increase in atmospheric CO2 is largely manmade. Regardless of its source, the marginal warming effect of all that CO2 our electric power generation, heating, combustion engine-based transportation, and large-scale deforestation is producing will, without question, eventually result in a massive methane release, just as happened in the Permian. Our atmospheric CO2 levels are already very close to those that triggered the methane releases that resulted in the Permain Extinction, and there's no technolgy currently in existence that will allow us to "scrub" that CO2 out of our atmosphere. That, in turn, means that we're pretty much stuck with a future in which the planet warms suffiiciently to melt the polar and Greenland icecaps - and all the world's glaciers, as well - and release the methane clathrate deposits, too. How long this will take is the main unanswered question, now. The international consensus is that it will be on the order of a millenium before the planetary warming process reaches its peak, but there's some reason to believe that the icecaps are what used to be known as "chaotic systems" (i.e. - systems whose existing state is highly unstable, and subject to very rapid change if the conditions under which they are maintained change in relatively modest ways), and, if so, the collapse of the world's ice sheets could happen in as little as a century or so.

      This is the problem with the plea for "simple answers". The systems we're talking about aren't simple - they're vast, complex, and (by the timescale of a single human life) slow-moving. The time to get out ahead of global warming was the 1970's. It's far too late now to prevent the planet from warming enough to melt the icecaps and change the climate sufficiently to result in another mass extinction event. At this point, we can only try to slow the process down, not stop

  • I assumed that the north pole would be far enough away from polite society to let loose, but apparently I've just made an ass of myself once again.

  • Some perspective (Score:5, Informative)

    by nukeade ( 583009 ) <> on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:52PM (#39786699) Homepage

    So I wondered just how much methane 2 mg/m^2/day is, and here's the breakdown:

    2 mg/m^2/day times the area of the Arctic ocean (13,986,000 km^2) is 27,972,000 kg/day, or about 10.2 Tg/year.

    10.2 Tg/year can be compared on this chart [] to other sources. This is not an insignificant amount, but is an order of magnitude less than just the contribution from farm animals.

    I'm not a climate scientist, and can't say what this may or may not mean for AGW, but it puts the size of the emission into perspective.

    • Yes, but... When balanced against methane sinks (using your helpful link), the NET GAIN of methane is ~20Tg/year. Which means that adding 10Tg/year would be a 50% increase in the rate of methane accumulation. Seems like bad news.

      On the plus side, doing something about those cows would potentially tip the delta back down to neutral or below.

  • Yes, it's a perfectly NATURAL gas! Environmentalist commie tree huggers who say otherwise are HYPOCRITES who actually HATE NATURE!

    Our BODIES produce methane all the time, to GREAT COMEDIC EFFECT!

    And it's PLANT FOOD! (Assuming the plants are from Zeta Gamma VII, which happens to be the home world of our new alien terraforming overlords.)

  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @04:13PM (#39787017)
    No need to waste time over the cause, I think those two camps are entrenched and few will change their minds on the actual cause. The fact is the feedback loop is already starting which means it's likely self-perpetuating or soon will be. It also means the increase can be much greater than any of the projections since no one is sure how much methane can be released so most haven't factored it in to projections. It's unlikely that the climate change can be stopped but that's no reason to not limit CO2. There was always a much bigger issue that rarely gets mentioned and that's ocean acidification. Acid oceans kill fish and coral and we don't get our oxygen and food from rain forests we get most of the oxygen and a lot of our food from the oceans so killing them is a bad idea.
  • Rain Forest (Score:5, Interesting)

    by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @07:13PM (#39789053) Homepage Journal
    Fifteen or twenty years ago, the buzz was about diminishing rain forests. Before that, it was extinction. It seems like people get tired of a world consumption message, give up on caring, and look for a new "problem" to warn ourselves about. Warming is the new rain forest, which was the new extinction. As a fifty year old environmentalist, I wonder how wise it was to take peoples focus off of habitat and onto thermometers. We need big forests to suck up the carbon. Now, that arrow is gone.
    • I wish I had mod points right now. You make a good point but I'm not sure if you took it far enough. People were always concerned about the environment and that is a good thing. At some level we all need to have some concern that our air, food, and water is clean. We should make sure that we don't deplete the natural resources available to us. It's just good stewardship of our planet to make sure the human species survives.

      While you make a good point I think you need to take it a step further and reali

  • Keeping in mind that methane is 25 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and that the US's total CO2 emission from electrical power generation (largely coal) is 2.4Gton_metric/year [], the total CO2e from the source cited in TFA is (using calchemy's Unicalc):


    ([{25 * (2 * [milli*gramm])} / {meter^2}] / day) * (5.400025E6 * [mile^2]) ? (giga*ton_metric) / year

    = 0.25524451 Gton_metric/year

    That's about 10% of the greenhouse impact of the US's electrical power generation.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.