Ecologists have found a disturbing side-effect caused by the world’s rapidly shrinking glaciers. As the ice gets thinner, pockets of methane that have been trapped beneath it are being released. Once this occurs, the methane heads into the atmosphere adding to the Greenhouse Effect. A team of scientists are attempting to map these gas pockets and, if it’s viable, ignite them. So far, they’ve found over 150,000.

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Speaking to Discovery NewsKatey Walter Anthony, an aquatic ecosystem ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, methane is 25 times stronger than a single molecule of carbon dioxide. Her team has found fame on Youtube by igniting the methane pockets and creating fireballs over Alaskan lakes. Now, she and her colleagues are publishing their findings in Nature Geoscience.

For the first time, Anthony and her colleagues combined Arctic aerial survey data with ground-based measurements to document widespread methane seeps along melting glaciers and permafrost. The team studied both superficial methane seepage from shallow lakes and wetland, and seepage from thicker ice caps – which are continuing to melt.

The team discovered 77 subcap seep sites that had never been documented before, as well as more than 150,000 single bubble streams of methane.

“In a warmer world, thawing permafrost and wastage of glaciers and ice sheets could lead to a significant transitional degassing of subcap methane,” the authors wrote in Nature Geoscience. “Our findings imply that in a warming climate, disintegration of permafrost, glaciers and parts of the polar ice sheets could facilitate the transient expulsion of C-depleted methane trapped by the cryosphere cap.”

In layman’s terms, if the glaciers continue to melt, these gas pockets will be completely free to release their contents into the atmosphere, or even worse, ignite unchecked.

+ Nature Geoscience

Via Discovery News