More on Arctic methane—Vast kilometer-wide methane “plumes” seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats

Via commenter eggroll_jr in response to this post — “We’re in a planetary emergency” thanks to Arctic ice melt and Greenland permafrost — we find this article about the appearance of “methane plumes” now rising through the newly warmed Arctic ocean. From The Independent last December:

Vast methane ‘plumes’ seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats

Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

We talked about methane here (scroll down) in reference to the methane trapped in Greenland permafrost and sealed from the atmosphere by now-disappearing ice sheets. This story is about methane shooting up through the Arctic ocean itself in vast torch-like plumes and headed straight for the surface and the atmosphere.

The scale of the phenomenon — as usual — is the big surprise:

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said.

“I was most impressed by the sheer scale and the high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them,” he said.

One thousand meters is a kilometer — more than half a mile. These are high-density methane columns, compressed tight by the high pressure of the ocean itself, many wider than a kilometer. And they think there are thousands of them. Add methane from the ocean depths, methane from the Greenland permafrost, and methane from the Siberian permafrost to the air, and we have unleashed a monster.

How big a monster? This big:

Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tons of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

And this big:

The total amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic is calculated to be greater than the overall quantity of carbon locked up in global coal reserves[.]

I want to send you to the article for the rest; it’s fascinating in a data-rich way. There’s even a discussion about why methane is so dangerous, and why those estimates of its effect relative to CO2 move around — from 20 to 25 times more damaging — depending on who provides them.

Time to get cracking. My personal climate estimate, 2022, may sadly be on target (or way too optimistic). The next post will focus on solutions. Stay tuned.


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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  • The warming impact of methane is 100 times that of CO2. The figure of 25 times refers to the impact of a methane release over 100 years. Since, the methane involved in an isolated release will be removed from the air within 10 years, they estimate that its overall impact is 25 times that of CO2 over 100 years. But, when the atmospheric concentration of methane rises and stays at a new level, that level has the impact of a rise in CO2 that is 100 times bigger. 

    Consider, CO2 has risen from 280 ppm to 390 ppm since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Methane has risen from 0.700 ppm to 1.800 ppm., which has the equivalent warming effect of a rise of 110 ppm of CO2. Therefore, the warming we are currently experiencing is due almost as much to the rise in methane as it is to the rise in CO2.  

    Frightened yet? No? Well, then consider the fracking operations that are expanding globally. Methane is seeping from the fracked strata in Pennsylvania. How much methane do you think will seep from fracked strata worldwide in the next few years? It is almost as if mankind cannot wait for nature to release the methane, mankind has to do it.  

    Maybe in the long run, millions of years from now, a new species will conclude that the purpose for that strange extinct species called Homo Sapiens is that it released huge amounts of sequestered carbon deposits thus altering the Earth’s climate profoundly. Although the new climate is great for this new species…poor Homo Sapiens just couldn’t take it, and died out. 

    This future species will find some our writings. They even will find some that discuss global warming and the rising seas. When they read the ones that say “It is God’s will,” they just cannot figure that out. How could such a seemingly intelligent species do that to themselves? Unfortunately, they won’t have Mitt Romney and Rush Limbaugh to explain it to them. 

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