Frozen methane bubbles

Sea Boiling with Methane Discoverd in Siberia
by / 10/8/19

“Scientists in Siberia have discovered an area of sea that is “boiling” with methane, with bubbles that can be scooped from the water with buckets. Researchers on an expedition to the East Siberian Sea said the “methane fountain” was unlike anything they had seen before, with concentrations of the gas in the region to be six to seven times higher than the global average.

“methane leaking from the seafloor in the Arctic”

The team, led by Igor Semiletov, from Tomsk Polytechnic University in Russia, traveled to an area of the Eastern Arctic previously known to produce methane fountains. They were studying the environmental consequences of permafrost thawing beneath the ocean. Permafrost is ground that is permanently frozen—in some cases for tens of thousands of years. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, permafrost currently covers about 8.7 million square miles of the Northern Hemisphere.

Locked within in the permafrost is organic material. When the ground thaws, this material starts to break down and, as it does, it releases methane—a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. With global temperatures increasing, scientists are concerned the warming will result in more permafrost thawing, causing more methane to be released, leading to even more warming. This is known as a positive feedback loop. A huge proportion of Siberia is covered in permafrost, but this is starting to change. Over recent years, scientists working in remote regions have started documenting changes to the landscape thought to be related to it thawing, including huge craters. In 2016, footage emerged of the ground wobbling “like jelly.”

But permafrost is also present under the ocean. In 2017, scientists announced they had discovered hundreds of craters at the bottom of the Barents Sea, north of Norway and Russia. The craters had formed from methane building up then exploding suddenly when the pressure got too high. In the latest expedition to chart methane emissions coming from the ocean, researchers analyzed the water around Bennett Island, taking samples of sea water and sediments. In one area, however, they found something unexpected—an extremely sharp increase in the concentration of atmospheric methane. According to a statement from Tomsk Polytechnic University, it was six to seven times higher than average.

They then noticed an area of water around four to five square meters that was “boiling with methane bubbles,” the statement said. This could be scooped out with buckets, the researchers said. After identifying the fountain, the team was able to take samples directly from it. Methane levels around the fountain were nine times higher than average global concentrations. “This is the most powerful gas fountain I’ve ever seen,” Semiletov said, according to a translation from the Moscow Times.

“No one has ever recorded anything like this before.” After identifying the fountain, the team was able to take samples directly from it. Methane levels around the fountain were nine times higher than average global concentrations. The following day they found another methane fountain and conducted a comprehensive analysis of it. Sergey Nikiforov, a journalist who took part in the expedition, said there will now be more research and experiments in this part of the ocean: “The work to study the secrets of the Arctic seas… continues,” he said in a statement.

NASA Discovered Arctic Lakes Bubbling with Methane
by   / 9/13/18

“Last month NASA released footage showing the bubbling Arctic lakes, which are the result of a little known phenomenon called “abrupt thawing.” It occurs when the permafrost—ground that has been frozen for potentially thousands of years—thaws faster than expected. Scientists have long known that the thawing permafrost has the potential to release large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. As the organic matter that has been locked up in the ground defrosts it decomposes, releasing carbon and methane (a hydrocarbon) in the process.

If all this was released into the atmosphere, the impact on climate change would be huge. In total there is about 1,500 billion tons of carbon locked up in the permafrost—almost double the amount of carbon in the atmosphere right now. Thawing permafrost has currently been causing problems across the Arctic. In Siberia, huge craters have opened up across the tundra. While not confirmed, it is believed that as the permafrost thaws, pockets of methane are formed. When the pressure gets too high, these pockets explode.

“Methane bubbles up from thawed permafrost at the bottom of a thermokarst lake.”

Methane was also thought to be causing the ground to wobble—video released in 2016 showed patches of grassland bobbing up and down when researchers stood on it. As the thawing continues, it will eventually cause major problems for the towns and cities located in these northern regions—as the ground becomes softer, roads warp and buildings start sinking into the ground. In a NASA-funded study published in Nature Communications, scientists have now discovered a source of methane that has not been accounted for in climate models—methane coming from “thermokarst” lakes. These lakes form when the permafrost thaws at a faster rate and deeper into the ground than normal.

The thawing creates a depression, which then fills with rain water, ice and snow melt. The water then speeds up the rate of the permafrost thaw at the shores of the lake. The process—abrupt thawing—could speed up the release of methane into the atmosphere. “Within decades you can get very deep thaw holes, meters to tens of meters of vertical thaw,” Katey Walter Anthony, from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said in a statement. “So you’re flash thawing the permafrost under these lakes. And we have very easily measured ancient greenhouse gases coming out.”

Researchers used measurements from 11 thermokarst lakes and computer models to show that abrupt thawing will result in more than double previous estimates of the warming from the thawing permafrost. They found methane bubbling at 72 locations within these lakes, measuring the amount of gas being released by the permafrost beneath the water. They then compared the release to that seen at normal Arctic lakes, where gradual permafrost thaw is taking place. Findings showed the abrupt thawing at the thermokarst lakes was significant in terms of methane release—and the researchers noted that this source of greenhouse gases was not accounted for properly in the climate change scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Essentially, even if we reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the methane release from these lakes will still occur. ”

“The mechanism of abrupt thaw and thermokarst lake formation matters a lot for the permafrost-carbon feedback this century,” Walter Anthony said. “We don’t have to wait 200 or 300 years to get these large releases of permafrost carbon. “Within my lifetime, my children’s lifetime, it should be ramping up. It’s already happening but it’s not happening at a really fast rate right now, but within a few decades, it should peak.” As a result, she is calling for this source of methane to be included in climate models to get a more accurate picture of future climate change. Sue Natali, a scientist with the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study, said the findings were “concerning.” She told Newsweek: “Models that estimate carbon emissions from thawing permafrost generally represent thawing as a gradual top-down process, but they don’t consider abrupt ground thaw, which occurs across the Arctic and which can result in much deeper and much faster rates of thaw.

“This study found substantial carbon emissions from abrupt thawing of permafrost beneath Arctic lakes, doubling estimates of cumulative carbon emissions from permafrost thaw by the end of this century. These results are concerning given that the most recent climate projections in the IPCC report did not incorporate any permafrost carbon emissions or the resulting amplification of climate warming,” said Natali. “Even under a future where anthropogenic emissions are greatly reduced, we can still expect to see considerable CH4 [methane] emissions from Arctic lakes. This means that it will be much more challenging to keep global temperatures below the 1.5 or 2 C target set by the international community.” Torben Christensen, a professor in the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science at Lund University, also commented on the study. He told Newsweek the findings were interesting, as they show carbon permafrost can play an important role in future emissions.

“What [the study is] saying is we have a legacy of old carbon in the natural ecosystems that’s been stored for hundreds and thousands of years, and that is starting to thaw,” he said. “This is adding to the natural releases to the atmosphere—and that has to be taken seriously in climate projections.” He also said, however, that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions far outweighed these natural feedbacks. “[Carbon from permafrost] is a serious contribution that we’re looking at—but when we look at it compared to the overall anthropogenic emissions, it’s a relatively minor thing. This just points to the fact that anthropogenic emissions are still at the heart of the matter.”

“9 November 2014: A member of an expedition group stands on the edge of a newly formed crater on the Yamal Peninsula, northern Siberia”

by Hannah Osborne  / 6/1/17

“Scientists have discovered hundreds of huge craters—some over 3,000 feet wide—on the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. The craters in the Barents Sea, north of Norway and Russia, formed through huge mounds full of methane exploding suddenly and catastrophically, thousands of years ago. Scientists say the discovery could help explain why so many craters have appeared in Siberia over recent decades, with the same processes causing these explosive events. Researchers led by Karin Andreassen, from the University of Tromsø, the Arctic University of Norway, were investigating a handful of craters that were first discovered in the 1990s. Using state-of-the-art technology, the team has now been able to map the seafloor more accurately—and their findings showed a vast number of craters covering a huge area.

“The craters are connected to deeper gas chimneys, showing gas flow from deeper hydrocarbon reservoirs. Hundreds of gas flares are seen in the water above”

She tells Newsweek: “We realized that there were hundreds of them. And we could also get detailed images of them. We got seismic data showing the structure underneath, and the links with deeper hydrocarbon sources.” The team also got information on levels of methane gas in the water. This allowed them to map out exactly where in the water the gas was located and how it was related to the location of the craters. As a result, they were able to show how the plumbing structure of gas beneath the seafloor caused these craters to form. In their study, published in Science, the researchers used a model of ice sheet evolution from the end of the last Ice Age, from around 17,000 years ago.

At this time, the Barents Sea was covered in an ice sheet, weighing down on the seafloor. As the ice sheet started to retreat, the methane reservoirs deep below started to become unstable; they began to decompose and migrate upwards and settle at shallower depths—resulting in huge mounds of concentrated methane. “Gas was flowing from below into the upper bedrock just below the ice where the gas was stable,” Andreassen says. “When the load was taken away—as the ice became thinner—there was more and more of the gas hydrate [at shallower depths]. At the end, as the ice sheet finally retreated, the gas would have concentrated into mounds on the seafloor. These were very, very vulnerable to changes in temperature and pressure, so eventually they would collapse,” adds Andreassen.

“There are several hundred craters in the area the study looked at. Over one hundred of them are up to 1,000 meters wide”

She says that if you watch this happening, you would see a huge mound suddenly release an enormous amount of gas, then collapse. The resulting craters we see today are between 1,000 and 3,200 feet in diameter. The process, Andreassen says, is thought to be similar to what scientists are recording on Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula today. Over the last few decades, huge craters have been appearing. Researchers believe they are formed by thawing permafrost causing the buildup of methane below ground, eventually resulting in an explosive collapse.

“There are many mounds and craters—thousands I would guess—that are the same size in Yamal. The process of first forming into mounds, then releasing gas and collapsing—that’s what scientists think is happening in Yamal also. We know from satellite images that areas [where] craters have formed…[were] documented to have been mounds before.” While the researchers do not think there is much risk of mounds forming, then exploding, in the area they studied, similar buildups could be taking place in regions covered in ice where hydrocarbons are present, such as Greenland. “It is a process we must take into account when we discuss future methane releases,” Andreassen says. “The point is methane is being released very slowly, but it can be released very fast and abruptly.”

“The Barents Sea, where the team found and studied the craters”

The team has a probe sitting inside one of the craters, where it is collecting geophysical, geochemical and gas data. They plan to collect this after a year, allowing them to better understand the composition of these craters. They hope to look at ice sheet models, as well as changes in permafrost and gas hydrates over the last 11,000 years to understand what is happening on Earth now. “Our study provides the scientific community with a good past analogue for what may happen to future methane releases in front of contemporary, retreating ice sheets,” concluded the statement released with the study.”

Arctic Permafrost is Leaking Acid and Dissolving the Rocks Beneath
by Hannah Osborne / 9/26/18

“The permafrost in the Arctic is leaking acid as it thaws, scientists have discovered. This release, from the water that has been locked up for thousands of years, is causing rocks in the ground to dissolve—a process that could become a major source of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, scientists at the University of Alberta, Canada, looked at how much CO2 was being released from mineral weathering. This is where minerals locked up in the permafrost—ground that has been frozen for potentially thousands of years—are released and broken down into their chemical components by the sulfuric and carbonaic acid that can exist in water.

Permafrost across the arctic is starting to thaw as global temperatures increase. As it thaws, organic matter that had been frozen starts to break down and carbon dioxide and methane (a potent greenhouse gas) are released. This is of concern to climate scientists as it has the potential to create a positive feedback loop. As the ground thaws and releases greenhouse gasses, it contributes to warming and therefore more thawing. Understanding how much carbon dioxide is being released and through which processes is important for our climate models showing future warming. “We found that rapidly thawing permafrost on the Peel Plateau in the Northwest Territories is greatly enhancing mineral weathering,” lead author Scott Zolkos said in a statement. “Because weathering is largely driven by sulfuric acid in this region, intensifying permafrost thaw could be an additional source of CO2 to the atmosphere.”

“Patterns in permafrost in the High Arctic in September 2005. Scientists have discovered the thawing ground is releasing acid.”

The team studied part of the Canadian Arctic. They discovered weathering from sulfuric acid has become more intense over recent decades—in line with regional permafrost thaw. They say this probably increased the amount of CO2 being released. “Any additional warming in the Arctic, which is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, promotes more permafrost thaw and thus poses substantial challenges to Arctic and global ecosystems,” Zolkos said, adding more research will be needed to understand what impact mineral weathering will have on the climate.

“Across the Arctic, increasing thermokarst will profoundly impact freshwater carbon cycling, yet the influence of weathering on climate feedbacks will depend on regional variation in the mineral composition of permafrost soils,” the scientists conclude. Scientists are currently paying close attention to the thawing permafrost across the arctic. While we know methane and carbon dioxide is being released, just how much is not clear. Recently, a NASA funded study revealed Arctic lakes bubbling with methane. This source of CO2, from “thermokarst” lakes, has not been accounted for in climate models. It is currently estimated there is around 1,500 billion tons of carbon locked up in the permafrost. That is nearly double the amount of carbon in the atmosphere right now.”

Radioactive chlorine from nuclear bomb tests still present in Antarctica
by Abigail Eisenstadt  /  15 October 2019

“Antarctica’s ice sheets are still releasing radioactive chlorine from marine nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s, a new study finds. This suggests regions in Antarctica store and vent the radioactive element differently than previously thought. The results also improve scientists’ ability to use chlorine to learn more about Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists commonly use the radioactive isotopes chlorine-36 and beryllium-10 to determine the ages of ice in ice cores, which are barrels of ice obtained by drilling into ice sheets.

Chlorine-36 is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope, meaning it has a different atomic mass than regular chlorine. Some chlorine-36 forms naturally when argon gas reacts with cosmic rays in Earth’s atmosphere, but it can also be produced during nuclear explosions when neutrons react with chlorine in seawater. Nuclear weapons tests in the United States carried out in the Pacific Ocean during the 1950s and the 1960s caused reactions that generated high concentrations of isotopes like chlorine-36. The radioactive isotope reached the stratosphere, where it traveled around the globe. Some of the gas made it to Antarctica, where it was deposited on Antarctica’s ice and has remained ever since.”

“Locations (in blue) where 1.5-million-year-old Antarctic ice could be”

Other isotopes produced by marine nuclear bomb testing have mostly returned to pre-bomb levels in recent years. Scientists expected chlorine-36 from the nuclear bomb tests to have also rebounded. But new research in AGU’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres finds the Vostok region of Antarctica is continuing to release radioactive chlorine into the atmosphere. Since naturally produced chlorine-36 is stored permanently in layers of Antarctica’s snow, the results indicate the site surprisingly still has manmade chlorine produced by bomb tests in the 1950s and in the 1960s. “There is no more nuclear chlorine-36 in the global atmosphere. That is… why we should observe natural chlorine-36 levels everywhere,” said Mélanie Baroni, a geoscientist at the European Centre for Research and Teaching in Geosciences and the Environment in Aix-en-Provence, France, and co-author of the new study.

“Vostok and Talos Dome are both shown on this map of Antarctica. Vostok is still releasing anthropogenic chlorine-36 into the atmosphere.”

Studying the chlorine’s behavior in Antarctica can improve ice dating technology, helping scientists better understand how Earth’s climate evolved over time, according to the study’s authors. In the new study, Baroni and her colleagues examined chlorine emissions in different parts of Antarctica to better understand how chlorine behaves over time in areas where annual snowfall is high versus areas where snowfall is low. The researchers took ice samples from a snow pit at Vostok, a Russian research station in East Antarctica that receives little snow accumulation, and compared them to ice samples from Talos Dome, a large ice dome roughly 1400 kilometers (870 miles) away that receives a lot of snow accumulation every year.”

“radar signals bounce off layers of ice hidden under the surface, revealing differences in things like ice chemistry and density”

The researchers tested samples from both sites for concentrations of chlorine-36 and determined how much chlorine was present in Vostok’s ice from 1949 to 2007 and how much was in Talos Dome’s ice from 1910 to 1980. The results showed chlorine-36 in Talos Dome ice has gradually decreased over time, holding only four times the level of natural chlorine-36 level, in 1980. However, the Vostok ice showed very high levels of chlorine-36, with the top of the snow pit reaching levels of 10 times the expected natural concentration in 2008. The consistently higher levels suggest the Vostok snowpack is still releasing radioactive chlorine from the 1950s and 1960s marine nuclear bomb tests. The amount of radioactivity is too small to have an effect on the environment, but the results are surprising because a different radioactive isotope produced by nuclear tests had already returned to pre-bomb levels in Vostok, according to the study’s authors. They had hypothesized chlorine-36 would behave similarly.

“Researchers towed their instrument on a wooden sled from a snow machine about 100 feet ahead. This wooden sled holds ice-penetrating radar equipment.” 

They also compared the Vostok ice samples with samples from the same site taken in 1998. Measuring the depth of each sample, they found chlorine-36 had moved closer to the surface of the snowpack, which was surprising, according to Baroni. The chlorine was not only spreading to the atmosphere from the firn surface of the snowpack, but moving up from the snowpack’s depths, meaning the chlorine is more mobile scientists previously thought.

“The U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) has drilled and recovered its longest ice core to date from the polar regions, officially hitting 3,331 meters.”

Scientists are currently planning to drill for a 1.5 million-year-old ice core in the Antarctic and understanding how Vostok releases manmade chlorine-36 could improve how scientists use the isotope to glean data from the ancient ice core, Baroni said. Determining how manmade nuclear chlorine-36 moves in low snow accumulation zones over the last century could serve as a microcosmic example for how natural chlorine-36 has built up in snowpacks over the last 1 million years, according to the study authors. The results give more information to future scientists using the isotope to date ancient ice and uncover Earth’s past climate, according to the study.”



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