Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Arctic Methane: from theory to harsh reality

In mid-December of last year, I posted information regarding the potential for climate change in the Arctic to allow for the release of possibly vast amounts of methane gas from warming permafrost. The info came from scientific and academic journal articles and posed a serious but little publicized consequence of global warming.

It looks like the issue caught the eye of mainstream media with an article in last Sunday's edition of the Los Angeles Times. What caught the attention of the Times was research taking place in Alaska and Siberia that documents the actual effect that was once theorized.

Melting permafrost is producing sinkholes that fill with water and rapidly become ponds which ultimately merge into small lakes. In these bodies of water organic matter decomposes and releases methane - a greenhouse gas considered to be more potent than many of the other gases, like CO2, that are typically known to the public. Scientists have found streams of methane bubbles emanating from these lakes and have actually been able to ignite these bubbles streams to form a "methane flare."

The extant of the impact of Arctic methane gas is not completely clear at this time, so research will continue in Alaska and Siberia, funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA. But Alaskans have seen the effect of warming permafrost with houses collapsing and trees falling from softened soil. It has been estimated that repairs to affected schools, roads and bridges will cost $6 billion over the next two decades.

In December, I described the issue as a potential land mine right under our feet. It may becoming harder to watch where we step. Time to act.

Click here for online L.A. Times article and excellent video.

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