Methane hydrates: Climate trouble may be bubbling up in far north

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Methane hydrates make the mainstream

Climate trouble may be bubbling up in far north
By CHARLES J. HANLEY ASSOCIATED PRESS MACKENZIE RIVER DELTA, Northwest Territories / ABC News, 2 March, 2016

Only a squawk from a sandhill crane broke the Arctic silence — and a low gurgle of bubbles, a watery whisper of trouble repeated in countless spots around the polar world. “On a calm day, you can see 20 or more ‘seeps’ out across this lake,” said Canadian researcher Rob Bowen, sidling his small rubber boat up beside one of them. A tossed match would have set it ablaze.

“It’s essentially pure methane.”

Pure methane, gas bubbling up from underwater vents, escaping into northern skies, adds to the global-warming gases accumulating in the atmosphere. And pure methane escaping in the massive amounts known to be locked in the Arctic permafrost and seabed would spell a climate catastrophe.

Is such an unlocking underway?

… Afloat above the huge, shallow continental shelf north of Siberia, Russian researchers have detected seabed “methane chimneys” sending gas bubbling up to the surface, possibly from hydrates. Reporting to the European Geophysical Union last year, the scientists, affiliated with the University of Alaska and the Russian Academy of Sciences, cited “extreme” saturation of methane in surface waters and in the air above. They said up to 10% of the undersea permafrost area had melted, and it was “highly possible” that this would open the way to abrupt release of an estimated 50 billion tons of methane.

Depending on how much dissolved in the sea, that might multiply methane in the atmosphere several-fold, boosting temperatures enough to cause “catastrophic greenhouse warming,” as the Russians called it. It would be self-perpetuating, melting more permafrost, emitting more methane. Some might label that alarmism. And Stockholm University researcher Orjan Gustafsson, a partner in the Russians’ field work, acknowledged that “the scientific community is quite split on how fast the permafrost can thaw.”

But there’s no doubt the north contains enough potential methane and carbon dioxide to cause abrupt climate change, Gustafsson said by telephone from Sweden.

http://robinwestenra.blogspot.com/2016/03/methane-hydrates-make-mainstream.html

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