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Arctic Thaw May Release a Methane Timebomb

The Scientific American has a new article out that looks at the potential impact of global warming on methane release in the arctic.

"In a complete Arctic thaw, these lakes could discharge a whopping 50 billion tons of methane: 10 times the amount already helping to heat the planet.

Whether a total or more moderate release is in store is still anyone’s guess. But pound for pound, methane in the atmosphere traps 25 times more of the sun’s heat than CO2 does. Consequently, even a modest thaw of the perennially frozen soil that lies under these ephemeral lakes and caps the dry land around them could trigger a vicious cycle: warming releases methane and creates lakes, which thaw permafrost and liberate more gas, which intensifies warming, which creates more lakes, and so on. Some Arctic lakes are growing larger, and researchers are eyeing them suspiciously as a reason why global methane concentrations shot up in 2007 and have stayed high ever since. Other signs indicate that permafrost thawing on the Arctic seafloor may be loosening the cap on large pockets of methane stored deeper down.

Thawing a block of permafrost is like taking a package of frozen hamburger out of the freezer and leaving it on the kitchen counter. As the meat warms, ravenous microbes consume it, giving off a gas as a by-product. On dry land, microbes convert the dead animal and plant matter primarily into CO2. But in the wet, oxygen-starved depths of a lake, they instead release methane."

This is a long article and well worth reading.
 
 

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