Unprecedented Methane Plumes Bubbling in The Arctic

We’ve reported some great news today about Greenpeace and Facebook working together on renewable energy, and about corporate sustainability reports becoming standard practice.

Unfortunately, there’s some really bad news too.  

Dramatic, unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – are bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean near Russia, reports UK’s The Independent.

Scientists who have been studying the area for nearly 20 years, say they are astonished by this latest survey. 

Methane Arctic

Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. he told The Independent.

Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tons of methane gas locked beneath the Arctic permafrost.

One of the greatest fears is that the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice would melt the Siberian permafrost, releases the trapped methane into the atmosphere and leading to rapid and severe climate change.

"In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed," says Dr Semiletov. "We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal."

Dr Semiletov released his findings last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

The news puts in perspective the anemic results of Climate Change conference which just ended in Durban, South Africa.

Many of the citizen groups that gathered at Durban see the talks as a failure. Inspired, in part, by the Occupy movement, they are beginning to cry foul at the ways they believe corporate influence at home has stymied their governments’ participation in the U.N. process year after year, says Madeline Ostrander, senior editor at YES! Magazine.

It’s not news that the fossil-fuel industry is fighting against climate legislation in the US, for instance by helping to weaken and ultimately kill the cap-and-trade bill in Congress in 2010, she notes.

But a recent report by Greenpeace International, released just days before the negotiations, documents how fossil-fuel companies fight climate policies at every level of government in countries around the world.

For example, in Australia, energy and mining companies launched large ad campaigns to derail the passage of a carbon tax (which did pass). Canadian politicians are heavily under the influence of companies involved in tar sands extraction: For instance, in July 2011, a meeting of energy ministers to discuss Canada’s energy future was sponsored by 11 oil companies (at a cost of CA$180,000). Meanwhile, the Canadian oil industry receives more than CA$1.3 billion every year in government handouts. And Royal Dutch Shell, which also has major investments in Canadian tar sands expansion, recently petitioned the Japanese government to oppose any extension of the Kyoto Protocol (the country pulled out).

And the Koch Bros proudly take credit for the culture of climate denial that’s taken over the GOP. 

More on methane:

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Comments on “Unprecedented Methane Plumes Bubbling in The Arctic”

  1. geoff

    This is the biggist baddist news we have heard this century! WHY is not the world mobilising to avert obveous desaster? The answer seems to be sorry bud too many other things to sort!

  2. Eve

    The reply from Semiletov and Shakhova is enlightening:

    We would first note that we have never stated that the reason for the currently observed methane emissions were due to recent climate change.

    In fact, we explained in detail the mechanism of subsea permafrost destabilization as a result of inundation with seawater thousands of years ago.

    We have been working in this scientific field and this region for a decade. We understand its complexity more than anyone. And like most scientists in our field, we have to deal with slowly improving understanding of ongoing processes that often incorporates different points of views expressed by different groups of researchers.


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