Methane Sources Found Bubbling Up from Melting Ice Caps

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U.S. scientists report that they have discovered new sources of methane percolating up from underground reservoirs as glaciers, ice caps, and permafrost melt in the Arctic.

University of Alaska researchers, conducting aerial and ground surveys, said they have discovered 150,000 methane seeps in Alaska alone near the margins of retreating glaciers or thawing permafrost. In Greenland, the seeps tended to be concentrated around the margins of ice caps that have been retreating for the past 150 years, the scientists said.

Katey M. Walter Anthony, lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, said that these seeps in the earth’s frozen zones, or cryosphere, are not currently a major source of methane emissions. But, she added, “As the cryosphere degrades further, it could be a really big source.”

Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and researchers are concerned that rapid warming of the Arctic could trigger a methane “time bomb” as thawing permafrost, vegetation, and land ice result in the release of huge quantities of methane.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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