The Arctic is farting ancient methane into the atmosphere

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OK, OK, "farting" might not be the technical term. But as long frozen ice in Arctic regions starts to melt, trapped pockets of methane gas are escaping after millennia. This could be seriously bad news for our already warming planet.

Second only to carbon dioxide when it comes to greenhouse gases, methane levels in the atmosphere are starting to rise in our atmosphere after a brief period of relative stability. Landfills and farm animals are already a big source of methane, but those recent human sources are now being joined by ancient, long forgotten sources from the natural world.

Researcher Katey Walter Anthony and her team at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks have managed the tricky task of tracking these sources of methane back to their sources in methane seeps throughout Alaska and Greenland. The seeps seem to be the result of coal and gas deposits trapped under ice for thousands of years as well as younger deposits of plant material in the regions' lakes. Together, that makes for a lot of extra methane our atmosphere definitely doesn't need. Here's how they explain the spike in Nature Geoscience, as well as what it could mean for our planet:

We observed most of these cryosphere-cap seeps in lakes along the boundaries of permafrost thaw and in moraines and fjords of retreating glaciers. If this relationship holds true for other regions where sedimentary basins are at present capped by permafrost, glaciers and ice sheets, such as northern West Siberia, rich in natural gas and partially underlain by thin permafrost predicted to degrade substantially by 2100, a very strong increase in methane carbon cycling will result, with potential implications for climate warming feedbacks."


For more on this story, check out BBC News.

Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video on Flickr.