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article imageOp-Ed: The Arctic's huge store of methane gas: 'Ticking time-bomb?'

By Karen Graham     Jul 13, 2014 in Environment
Some climate change proponents are saying the huge amounts of methane gas, stored under the Arctic ice is a potential "ticking time bomb." They claim that we must stop extracting fossil fuels that put more CO2 into our atmosphere or face disaster.
Methane is only one of a number of gases called greenhouse gases (GHG) that can absorb and emit infrared radiation, or in other words, this means they can trap and absorb heat. The most abundant GHG is water vapor, followed by carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFC's. By measuring atmospheric infrared radiation, climatologists are able to detect trends in the Earth's climate.
Although methane is not the most abundant GHG, it is one of the strongest, being 80-times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane is actually 21 times more efficient in absorbing infrared radiation than CO2, even though it only hangs around 10 years in the atmosphere. Knowing these well documented facts about methane brings us to the latest predictions and warning.
Study on methane gas release in Arctic Ocean
Scientists with the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center have discovered a rather frightening situation. Arctic methane is leaking out of the ocean seabed at nearly twice the rate than previously thought. The East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) is releasing 17 million tons of methane into the atmosphere every year.
Natalia Shakhova, was the lead author of a study published in Nature Geoscience, in November, 2013. While the monitoring of methane gas in the Arctic has been going on since 1999, Shakhova points out "Increased methane releases in this area are a possible new climate-change-driven factor that will strengthen over time." This change is due to the finding that sub-sea permafrost is melting faster than expected due to warming bottom currents.
"We believe that the release of methane from the Arctic, and in particular this part of the Arctic, could impact the entire globe," Shakhova said. "We are trying to understand the actual contribution of the ESAS to the global methane budget and how that will change over time."
Why are some climate change proponents scared?
EcoWatch, citing an article in America Blog, points out the EPA's Clean Power Plan doesn't take into consideration methane from fracking leaks, fuel line leaks or transportation leaks. He also says it is estimated that there are 1,000 gigatons, or a thousand billion tons of carbon in methane form trapped under the Arctic ice.
Rapidly thawing Arctic permafrost and coastal erosion on the Beaufort Sea  Arctic Ocean  near Point ...
Rapidly thawing Arctic permafrost and coastal erosion on the Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean, near Point Lonely, AK. Photo Taken August, 5, 2013
Awing88 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The methane being discussed in the article is embedded in a kind of ice slurry as methane hydrate or methane clathrate crystals in the Arctic and the surrounding continental shelves. What has everyone worried is the possibility of a rapid thaw of the Arctic and the resulting "economic time-bomb" to follow, with a cost in the trillions of dollars to the world's economic structure.
Based on over 13 models measuring projected sea ice melt in the Arctic regions, it is expected that the North Pole will be ice-free in 20 years. But the news from the latest study is indicating that with increased leaking of methane gas, the projections may be wrong, and an ice-free pole could happen sooner. What all this means leads to a thought-provoking scenario, and a vicious cycle of disastrous consequences.
As long as the world continues to depend on fossil fuels, including the increased mining, or drilling for these fuels, carbon dioxide gases will continue to increase. This increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, along with the lack of Arctic ice to deflect the sun's heat, will just increase the warming of the Earth that much more. All this speeds up the process of global warming, and it is a very vicious cycle.
Water of Vltava river from Malostranské nábřeží under bridge Charles Bridge in Prague centrum d...
Water of Vltava river from Malostranské nábřeží under bridge Charles Bridge in Prague centrum during 2013 floods in the Czech Republic. Photo taken: June 5, 2013.
While some people think a catastrophic release of methane gases would even lead to an extinction event, this author is more inclined to look at the overall effects of the melting sea ice and permafrost in the Arctic as leading to an economic disaster such as the world has never seen, with the hardest hit being developing countries. We are already seeing major changes in our weather worldwide, and flooding and other forms of extreme weather are going to have major impacts of people's health and on agriculture.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Methane gas, Arctic ice, methane hydrates, natural greenhouse gas, Global warming
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