Video & Article
New 3D View of Methane Tracks Sources and Movement around the Globe
Credit: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio. 2 Min. 18 Sec. Video
"NASA’s new 3-dimensional portrait of methane concentrations shows the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming, the diversity of sources on the ground, and the behavior of the gas as it moves through the atmosphere..."
Since the Industrial Revolution, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled. After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most influential greenhouse gas, responsible for 20 to 30% of Earth’s rising temperatures to date.
“There’s an urgency in understanding where the sources are coming from so that we can be better prepared to mitigate methane emissions where there are opportunities to do so,” said research scientist Ben Poulter at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. READ MORE
Fresh U.S. government data spotlighting the rapid growth of atmospheric methane concentrations in recent years has scientists increasingly concerned that the human-caused climate crisis has triggered a vicious feedback loop, potentially resulting in unstoppable planetary warming.
Research published in January by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed that atmospheric concentrations of methane — a greenhouse gas that’s 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period — soared past 1,900 parts per billion in 2021, which ranked as the fourth-warmest year on record.
In recent years, climate scientists have warned thawing permafrost in Siberia may be a “methane time bomb” detonating slowly. Now, a peer-reviewed study using satellite imagery and a review by an international organization are warning that warming temperatures in the far northern reaches of Russia are releasing massive measures of methane—a potent greenhouse gas with considerably more warming power than carbon dioxide.
“It’s not good news if it’s right,” Robert Max Holmes, a senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, who was not involved in either report, tells Steve Mufson of the Washington Post. “Nobody wants to see more potentially nasty feedbacks and this is potentially one.”
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, the study of satellite photos of a previously unexplored site in Siberia detected large amounts of methane being released from exposed limestone. A heat wave in 2020 was responsible for the emissions along two large strips of rock formations in the Yenisey-Khatanga Basin, located several hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. READ MORE
We already have a narrow window of time to ward off the worst impacts of climate change. That could shrink even more if a previously-stable store of carbon is suddenly unleashed into the atmosphere. And a big store that many climate scientists are worried about is permafrost, the frozen soil that covers about a quarter of the northern hemisphere. In a 2018 Special Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that permafrost presents a huge uncertainty for our carbon footprint in the future.
What underlies that uncertainty is the fate of the old carbon stored in permafrost. Much like burning fossil fuels, releasing carbon from frozen soil that has been stored in the earth for thousands of years can warm our planet rapidly. But scientists aren’t sure whether that carbon will be released mostly as carbon dioxide, or as methane—a more powerful greenhouse gas.
Permafrost is soil that’s frozen year-round. It can include sand, rocks, or dark earth that’s rich in organic matter. It’s this organic-rich soil that’s most important from a climate perspective. Over thousands of years—tens of thousands, in some places—plants and animals died, decomposed, and became part of the soil as organic matter. Then, when that compost-like soil froze, all the carbon it contained became locked away from the atmosphere. READ MORE
Ice ages are not that easy to define. It may sound intuitive that an ice age represents a frozen planet, but the truth is often more nuanced than that.
An ice age has constant glaciations and deglaciations, with ice sheets pulsating with the rhythm of changing climate. These giants have been consistently waxing and waning, exerting, and lifting pressure from the ocean floor.
Several studies also show that the most recent deglaciation, Holocene (approximately 21ka-15ka ago) of the Barents Sea has had a huge impact on the release of methane into the water. A most recent study in Geology looks even further into the past, some 125 000 years ago, and contributes to the conclusion: Melting of the Arctic ice sheets drives the release of the potent greenhouse gas methane from the ocean floor.
"In our study, we expand the geological history of past Arctic methane release to the next to last interglacial, the so-called Eemian period. We have found that the similarities between the events of both Holocene and Eemian deglaciation advocate for a common driver for the episodic release of geological methane - the retreat of ice sheets." says researcher Pierre-Antoine Dessandier, who conducted this study as a postdoctoral fellow at CAGE Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate Environment and Climate at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. READ MORE
Worldwide emissions of methane have hit the “highest levels on record”, according to an international team of scientists.
The finding comes from the latest update to the Global Methane Budget, an international collaboration that estimates sources and sinks of methane around the world.
Their estimates for 2017 – the most recent year for which a full budget has been produced – show that annual global emissions hit almost 600m tonnes. That is around 9% higher than the 2000-06 average.
By the end of 2019, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere reached around 1875 parts per billion (ppb), the researchers say – more than two-and-a-half times pre-industrial levels.
Breaking down the different sources, the budget shows that rising emissions from “both the agriculture and waste sector and the fossil fuel sector are likely the dominant cause of this global increase”. This highlights the “need for stronger mitigation in both areas”, the researchers say. READ MORE
What If Earth Released All Its Methane?
Deep beneath the Arctic ice, something is trying to escape. It's left its mark all over the globe. It breathes fire. And it has the power to completely wipe us off the planet. No, we're not talking about some grotesque monster lurking underground. We're talking about an invisible gas called methane. What would happen if it escapes the Earth's surface? Would it speed up global warming? And how much longer can we keep it contained?
A massive methane reservoir beneath the submarine permafrost of the Laptev Sea is leaking. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey
Methane bubbles regularly reach the surface of the Laptev Sea in the East Siberian Arctic Ocean (ESAO), each of them a small blow to our efforts to mitigate climate change. The source of the methane used to be a mystery, but a joint Swedish-Russian-U.S. investigation recently discovered that an ancient gas reservoir is responsible for the bubbly leaks.
Methane in the Laptev Sea is stored in reservoirs below the sea’s submarine permafrost or in the form of methane hydrates—solid ice-like structures that trap the gas inside. It is also produced by microbes in the thawing permafrost itself. Not all of these sources are created equal: Whereas microbial methane is released in a slow, gradual process, disintegrating hydrates and reservoirs can lead to sudden, eruptive releases.
Methane is escaping as the Laptev’s submarine permafrost is thawed by the relative warmth of overlying seawater. With an even stronger greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide, methane releases into the atmosphere could substantially amplify global warming.
“To anticipate how these methane releases will develop over the coming decades or centuries, we need to understand what reservoirs of methane the releases are coming from,” said Örjan Gustafsson, leader of the research group that conducted the investigation. READ MORE
Deep underwater in the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica, scientists have discovered a new active leak of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. The discovery marked the first time that scientists were able to directly observe a new underwater methane seep, and see how methane-eating microbial life in its proximity evolved over a five-year span.
In a study published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a research team led by Oregon State University oceanographer Dr. Andrew Thurber explained that the methane gas leak was first discovered in 2011 off Antarctic shores. Antarctica is believed to have as much as a quarter of the planet's ocean-based methane trapped in permafrost and on the continental shelves. READ MORE
The level of atmospheric methane, a poisonous gas considered responsible for major mass extinction events in the past, has nearly tripled during the 20-21st centuries, from ~722 ppb (parts per billion) to above ~1866 ppb, currently reinforced by coal seam gas (CSG) emissions. As the concentration of atmospheric methane from thawing Arctic permafrost, from Arctic sediments and from marshlands worldwide is rising, the hydrocarbon industry, subsidized by governments, is progressively enhancing global warming by extracting coal seam gas in defiance of every international agreement.
Methane (CH₄), a powerful greenhouse gas ~80 times the radiative power of carbon dioxide (CO₂) when fresh, sourced in from anaerobic decomposition in wetlands, rice fields, emission from animals, fermentation, animal waste, biomass burning, charcoal combustion and anaerobic decomposition of organic waste, is enriched by melting of leaking permafrost, leaks from sediments of the continental shelf (Figure 1) and extraction as coal seam gas (CSG). The addition to the atmosphere of even a part of the estimated 1,400 billion tons of carbon (GtC) from Arctic permafrost would destine the Earth to temperatures higher than 4 degrees Celsius and thereby demise of the biosphere life support systems. READ MORE
Today, human sources are responsible for 60% of global methane emissions, coming primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, decomposition in landfills and the agriculture sector. Nearly a quarter of methane emissions can be attributed to agriculture, much of which is from raising livestock. Rice cultivation and food waste are also important sources of agricultural methane, as nearly a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.
At NASA, scientists study the global methane budget to better understand the primary sources of methane emissions and how they contribute to climate change. In addition to the human sources, methane is also produced in natural settings. The greatest natural source of methane is wetlands, which contribute 30% of global methane emissions. Other natural sources of methane emissions include the oceans, termites, permafrost, vegetation and wildfires.
Atmospheric methane concentrations have more than doubled since the Industrial Revolution because of intensive use of oil, gas and coal, rising demand for beef and dairy products and increased production of food and organic waste. Although the increase in atmospheric methane concentrations slowed appreciably near the end of the 20th Century, concentrations have been increasing substantially since 2006, likely as a result of rising emissions from raising livestock, renewed reliance on natural gas and, in recent years, wetlands and global warming. READ MORE
Arctic Sinkholes I Full Episode I NOVA I PBS | 53.5 Minutes
In the Arctic, enormous releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, threaten the climate. Colossal explosions shake a remote corner of the Siberian tundra, leaving behind massive craters. In Alaska, a huge lake erupts with bubbles of inflammable gas. Scientists are discovering that these mystifying phenomena add up to a ticking time bomb, as long-frozen permafrost melts and releases vast amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. What are the implications of these dramatic developments in the Arctic? Scientists and local communities alike are struggling to grasp the scale of the methane threat and what it means for our climate future.
Dr. Peter Wadhams: Arctic Research & the Methane Risk | 28 Minutes
Peter Wadhams is back on ScientistsWarning.TV with a comprehensive analysis of the reticent approach that part of the scientific community has been taking toward the potentially very dangerous methane hydrate situation in shallow Arctic sea waters, in this conversation recorded in March of 2019. I brought to his attention a video that had been put together by Yale Climate Connections in January 2019, which took the position that there really wasn't too much to worry about in terms of a potential Arctic methane release. Not fully trusting the video's assertions, I wanted Dr. Wadhams' take on it. The conversation touched upon several areas where science and scientists are not as objective as they should be. Apparently the situation with methane in the Arctic permafrost, both land based, and in this case sub-sea in the Arctic Ocean, is such an immense potential game-changer that it is provoking willful ignorance among many scientists and policy makers. Dr. Wadhams also notes that a proper risk analysis of methane outbreak at various levels has been missing so far, but should be conducted now as a high priority task.