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article imageCanada's Mackenzie River Basin releasing methane gas

By Karen Graham     Jul 19, 2017 in Environment
Frozen Arctic permafrost has acted like a tight-fitting stopper, keeping huge quantities of heat-trapping methane gas stored in layers of gas and oil buried deep beneath this barrier for millennia. Global warming has changed all that.
Canada's Mackenzie River watershed or basin, at 1,805,200 square kilometers (697,000 square miles), is the largest in Canada and takes up almost 20 percent of the country. Scientists using aerial sampling of the atmosphere, covered a 10,000 square-kilometer (3,861 square miles) swath of the river basin's delta in northwestern Canada, an area known to have oil and gas deposits, getting methane gas readings.
The research was conducted by scientists from the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ, the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and partners in the U.S.
Monthly methane concentrations (small circles) since 1983  with the running average as a solid line.
Monthly methane concentrations (small circles) since 1983, with the running average as a solid line.
Published in the journal Nature on July 19, the research suggests that deep pockets of permafrost are melting, releasing at least 17 percent of all the methane measured in the region, even though the methane "hot-spots" only make up about 1.0 percent of the surface area.
Expressing concern over rising methane gas emissions, lead author Katrin Kohnert from GFZ´s section for Remote Sensing says, "We wanted to find out how much methane is released in a region and were looking for spatial patterns in gas emissions." Using AWI's research aircraft Polar 5, airborne gas measurements were taken during extensive surveys conducted in the summers of 2012 and 2013.
The findings in the survey are very interesting because the researchers believe the methane is coming from permanently thawed permafrost from "deeper geologic sources," meaning it's not from "more recent microbial activity close to the surface."
The highest CH4 fluxes are west of a line running from the north to the south where the permafrost i...
The highest CH4 fluxes are west of a line running from the north to the south where the permafrost is discontinuous and thin (as sen by the reds), while east of it, the permafrost is continuous and thick (the expanses of blue).
Katrin Kohnert et. al
They back this conclusion up by saying that in contrast, on the adjacent coastal plain and Richards Island, with their continuous and thick permafrost of up to 300 meters (984 feet) and more than 500 meters (1,640 feet), high emissions of methane were not observed.
The study concludes: Our warming climate triggers not only the natural production of biogenic methane, it can also lead to stronger emissions of fossil gas (older methane). This contributes significantly to the permafrost-carbon-climate feedback. And according to Kohnert: "Therefore, permafrost areas vulnerable to thawing warrant much more attention."
Why this study is relevant to future sustainability in our world
This data-driven study on "old" methane emissions, along with the many studies on methane in all sectors of the oil and gas supply chain are important drivers in seeking solutions to the challenges we are facing today.
The Environmental Defense Fund says that data-driven studies on methane gas emissions are relevant not only to the impacts being seen with climate change but to businesses. Methane emission research is a huge collaborative effort involving scientists, researchers, and industry experts. Not only will this information help businesses in forming sustainable long-term practices, but it is essential to policy making at the government level.
More about Mackenzie River Basin, older methane, Swiss Cheese, Climate change, Permafrost
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