Synthetic Aperture Radar is offering scientists a new way to measure how much of the potent greenhouse gas is bubbling up from frozen Arctic lakes.
According to one estimate, there are more than 3.6 million lakes in the Arctic. They are remote and hard to reach and sample in the field, especially when they are covered with ice during the Arctic’s long winters.
Yet they are critically important to understanding climate change. As tiny organisms in Arctic lake sediments called archaea break down organic matter, they release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane (CH4) has a heat-trapping power about 30 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
Finding the sources of methane around the world and measuring how much they are emitting has become an important scientific pursuit. Most attempts to measure methane emissions from lakes have focused on summer conditions when lakes are ice free, but the processes that produce the gas continue through the winter when many lakes are frozen.
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