Is Leaking Methane From Arctic Sea More Than A Warning?

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During a recent scientific workshop about the California gray whale, one of the presenters discussed the dramatic changes he has discovered in the Arctic Ocean–increased carbon output, and the rapid growth of both phytoplankton and zooplankton. When asked what does it mean for the gray whale, (the gray whale summers and feeds in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea where the research was based)  there was no answer because the Arctic is changing so rapidly, that collecting, assembling, and assessing incoming data takes time, people and funding.

The following article, Arctic Seawater Leaking Methane: Big Pic from Discovery News, piles on more information about the complexity of changing seas and global climate change.

Journalist, Alanna Mitchell makes several references to methane and the oceans in her2009 book Sea Sick, Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth.

Mitchell writes:  If the store of deep-sea methane should ever breach the surface–think of a nasty belch–it would release a tremendous amount of methane into the atmosphere.  Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide…a sudden large release could prove such an assault on the climate that it would represent a tipping point, the moment when the global system begins to work hard not to recover its old state but to create a new one.

Michael Kendall, a Plymouth Marine Laboratory told Mitchell in regards to the shifts in acidic conditions and climate change in the oceans, “All these changes have happened before, but never, ever as rapidly…These are the fastest broad-scale changes the marine system has ever experienced.”

Mitchell derived from Kendall’s colleague, Michael Depledge Depledge argues for “climate change” to be renamed “ocean change” and warns of potential burst of carbon that could create an alternate and less hopitable global system:  the changing Indian monsoon that could release a burp of methane, the melting permafrost that could do the same thing.

–Charmaine Coimbra

Arctic Seawater Leaking Methane: The Big Pic

May 21, 2012 — These cracks in sea ice north of Alaska reveal a surprising and potentially important source of methane: the Arctic Ocean.

Methane’s ability to exacerbate global warming means that realistic climate projections depend on understanding all of its sources. Arctic ecologists have known for years that huge reservoirs of methane are frozen in permafrost soils, and strong evidence has revealed the gas escaping into the atmosphere from thawing permafrost and bubbling Arctic lakes. A recent study documented hundreds of thousands of methane seeps under glaciers in Alaska and Greenland.

ANALYSIS: Fireballs in the Arctic As Methane Seeps Uncovered

Oceanographers have also measured high concentrations of methane dissolved in upper layers of Arctic seawater. (The source is not certain but could be methane-producing microbes in seawater and/or thawing marine sediments). Until recently, however, no one was sure whether that seawater-bound methane actually entered the atmosphere.

NEWS: Arctic’s Old Ice Vanishing Rapidly

Now a multi-institutional team has reported the first clear evidence that methane escapes from the ocean surface, in places where there were cracks and openings in the sea ice. Eric Kort, now at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, led the research while at Harvard University.

During five research flights in 2009 and 2010, Kort and colleagues measured enhanced methane levels while flying at low altitudes north of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Over open water the team detected methane levels about one-half percent higher than normal background levels; over solid ice, they did not enhanced levels of the gas.

They inferred that the cracks were allowing methane in the top layers of the sea to escape into the atmosphere, in part by ruling out two other potential sources. First, if the methane had been coming from burning of fossil fuels, the team would have detected excess carbon monoxide as well (but they did not). And second, the time of year, location and nature of the emissions made high-latitude wetlands or geologic reservoirs unlikely.

“While the methane levels we detected weren’t particularly large, the potential source region, the Arctic Ocean, is vast,” Kort said in a summary posted on the NASA Earth Observatory. “Our finding could represent a noticeable new global source of methane.”

— by Sarah Simpson

Categories: Climate Change, Condition of Oceans, nature, Ocean acidification, Saving the Oceans, Whales

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