From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published December 14, 2011 11:00 AM

Vast Stores of Methane Are Released from under the Arctic

Deep under the icy waters of the Arctic, Russian scientists have discovered vast stores of methane, the potent greenhouse gas, far worse than CO2. The scientists sampled the waters along the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and discovered that the methane that was once dormant at the sea floor is starting bubble up to the surface in enormous plumes. As the climate warms in the Arctic, the sea ice retreats, the sunlight penetrates the water, and the frozen sea floor thaws, causing the release of methane in a gaseous state. The Russian team found over 100 sites where large quantities of methane were released, indicating accelerated Arctic warming into the future.


The scale of methane release discovered by the Russians astounded the team which had been exploring the East Siberian Arctic Shelf for the last 20 years. Dr. Igor Semiletov, one of the researchers with the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences said he had never witnessed anything like it.

"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 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."

Last year, Dr. Semiletov estimated that 8 million tons of methane were released per year from the region’s sea floor. However, after this expedition, that amount could be much higher.

Some scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tons locked as ice beneath the frozen Arctic sea floor and permafrost on land. The Arctic Ocean along the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is relatively shallow, making it more vulnerable to rising temperatures at the surface. The greatest fear is that the loss of summer sea-ice will lead to an uncontrollable release of methane, irrevocably changing the Earth's climate.

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